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A Pastoral Letter, to the Clergy and People of his Spiritual Charge.

By Benjamin T. Onderdonk, D.D.
Bishop of the Diocese of New-York.

New-York: Onderdonk & Forrest, 1844.

Brethren, beloved in the Lord:

It is due to the sacred relation which I bear to you that I apprise you of my having communicated to my brethren the Bishops of the Church in these United States, a solemn remonstrance, protest, and demand, growing out of the manner in which I have been treated by three of them in reference to the discharge of my episcopal functions.

This remonstrance, protest, and demand, are contained in the following document which I have addressed to the said Right Reverend brethren.

"To the Right Reverend the Bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, their brother the undersigned, the Bishop of New York, feels himself compelled by a sacred and imperious sense of duty to his office and his diocese, and to the Church and its Divine Head, to communicate this his solemn remonstrance, protest, and demand. Three of our number, to wit, the Bishops of Illinois, Vermont, and Ohio, have thought proper publicly to make insinuations and lay charges against the undersigned, in matters connected with an ordination held by him in the month of July last; which charges and insinuations involve the accusation of the undersigned on points deeply affecting the scriptural integrity and soundness of his doctrines, his devotion to the true interests and welfare of the portion of Christ's Church of which he is one of the chief pastors, his faithfulness to his own diocese, and consequently his fitness for the high and sacred office with which, in the course of God's providence, and by the appointment of His HOLY SPIRIT, he has been invested.

[4] The Bishop of Illinois has referred in a published pamphlet to the aforesaid ordination as a step towards bringing the most serious evils upon the Church, soiling her doctrinal purity, changing essentially her character, blasting her prosperity, and ruining her institutions. The Bishop of Ohio has denounced it to his Convention and to the world as deserving the highest censure, and fraught with danger to the Church, and grounds upon it a virtual threat not to receive clergymen into his diocese on letters of dismission from the undersigned, because of their being no security for the doctrinal soundness of the party dismissed. The Bishop of Vermont, besides himself censuring it at large, justifies the aforesaid acts of his brethren of Illinois and Ohio, on the ground of ancient allowance in the Catholic Church of one Bishop's interfering in the diocese of another, when the latter was in heresy, or otherwise bringing alarming evils upon the Church. This, therefore, is the character attributed by him to the undersigned.

Our religion teaches us how Christian brethren, in the privacy of confidential intercourse, should kindly rebuke each other for their faults. The Church, in her wise canonical provisions, points out the way in which, in due and orderly manner, her Bishops are amenable to her laws, are accountable for their offences, and are allowed a fair hearing in vindication from charges which may be brought against them. Neither of these Christian and just courses has, however, in the present instance, been pursued. The undersigned has been branded by brother Bishops before the Church and the world, without notice, and in avoidance, by his accusers, of the mode canonically prescribed for bringing charges against a brother, and allowing him the common justice of being put, in due and orderly manner, on his defence. They have proclaimed his alleged unfaithfulness to the world, instead of telling it, for her just decision thereon, to the Church.

Now therefore the undersigned hereby solemnly remonstrates and protests to his brethren the Bishops of the American Church, and through them to that Church, against this procedure of his aforesaid brethren, the Bishops of Illinois, Vermont, and Ohio, as unjust, unchristian, and in opposition to the true spirit of the system of ecclesiastical law and order to which they have solemnly promised conformity.

And further the undersigned hereby, in the name of God and of His Holy Church, demands of his said brethren, the Right [4/5] Reverend Philander Chase, D. D., Bishop of Illinois, the Right Reverend John Henry Hopkins, D. D., Bishop of Vermont, and the Right Reverend Charles Petit McIlvaine, D. D., Bishop of Ohio, that if they are honestly persuaded that the undersigned is justly liable to the charges which they have brought or insinuated against him, they do forthwith, agreeably to the Canon of the General Convention entitled "Of the Trial of Bishops," present him for trial; that thus it may be fairly and canonically tested whether he is guilty, or whether they are mistaken accusers. Which if they shall neglect to do, the undersigned will feel himself fully justified in regarding the accusations as withdrawn, and demanding that they be no more repeated.

Should the Bishop of Illinois think that his station as Senior or Presiding Bishop precludes his acting as a presenter, the undersigned earnestly requests that any other brother Bishop who may coincide in opinion with those who have publicly arraigned him, will unite in the presentment.

On his accusing brethren, and such others as agree with them in sentiment and views on this solemn and important subject, the undersigned urges the above mentioned course of presentment as that which only is consistent with the responsibilities and obligations imposed by laws to which, in the name of God, they have solemnly promised obedience."

Benj. T. Onderdonk,
Bishop of New York.

NEW-YORK, January 26,1S44.

The necessity of such action on my part, is, I assure you, my dearly beloved, extremely painful to me. I was aware that a conscientious Bishop could hardly fulfil his official obligations and responsibilities, in this ill-judging and wicked world, without exciting opposition. Nor ought I to be surprised that such opposition should often be manifested in a temper and mode especially natural to the carnal mind, and at variance with the spirit and affections of the renewed Christian heart. I was aware that the wholesome laws of our branch of the Catholic Church had rightly placed its Bishops under the responsibilities involved in the power of presenting them for trial vested in their respective conventions, and in any three of their own order.

But I confess I was not prepared for the humiliating sight of Bishops, passing by the mode which the Church provides for the [5/6] regular impeachment of a brother, publicly assailing him for his solemn official acts through the medium of the press. I was not prepared to see Right Reverend Fathers of the Church making common cause with ordinary pamphleteers and newspaper writers of the day by joining in their attacks upon one of their own order. It is a well-known principle of Catholic law in the Church of God, that save in strong and decided cases of episcopal defection and mal-conduct, no Bishop can rightly interfere with the diocesan acts and prerogatives of another, or assume to himself the privilege of holding a brother directly or indirectly responsible to him. The violation of this principle was the first step towards papal assumptions, whence, by the natural results of effects from causes, were ultimately brought in the manifold, grievous, and anti-christian evils with which the popish system has cursed the Church. I was therefore not prepared for being impeached by a brother Bishop before his Convention for official acts in my own diocese. That brother knew full well that impeachment in another quarter, were he confident of right, was a duty binding upon him by laws to which he had solemnly promised conformity.

Thus, however, brethren, has your Bishop been treated. My three brethren, the Bishops of Illinois, Vermont, and Ohio, who have pointed me out to the Church and the world as sufficiently faulty to require a public mark of their disapprobation, I will not so far underrate, touching their intellectual perception, and moral sense, as to suppose them capable of such treatment of a brother without appreciating its inseparable connection with the idea of his unfitness for his office, or at least of such a probability thereof as should subject him to peculiar vigilance, if not to public suspicion and distrust.

Those brethren knew that for testing the correctness of this idea the Church has provided a regular and orderly method. This they have not pursued. In the course which they have pursued, your Bishop, dear brethren, is the last man to be willing to follow them. He feels that he cannot do this consistently with a proper view of his office, and of his obligations to the Church. He shrinks, however, from no regular and orderly inspection and trial of his conduct. This he invites and demands. He utterly refuses to meet a brother Bishop, on questions of this nature, as a pamphleteer-opponent in strife before the world. The Church points out his line of responsibility for his official acts, and the [6/7] mode in which he is to be called to answer for them. In these he is willing to meet all inquiry, and render all legal account. Others he must be excused for considering as by no means entitled to his respect or submission.

Many of you, my reverend brethren, will remember the sentiment I have often expressed of the unworthy and unchristian character of a disposition to blazon the faults of a brother in the ministry, connected with unwillingness and even refusal to assume the responsibility of canonical presentment, and of honestly bearing testimony in due canonical form. Private rebuke and reproof of an erring brother is right and good, and often a bounden duty. But public reproach, save under the wholesome restraints, and just security of defence, provided by law, has hardly the shadow of Christian allowance under which to find refuge.

The apostle of the Gentiles, in addressing his children in the faith, when open enemies and false friends were endeavouring to diminish or destroy the influence which he would exert over them in the godly jealousy wherewith he was affected towards their spiritual and eternal good, was sometimes moved by the HOLY GHOST to lay before them his claims to their confidence. The multiplied manifestations from all parts of the diocese, wherewith I have been cheered, my dear brethren of the clergy and laity, with affectionate assurances of your love and confidence amidst the attacks and reproaches to which I have been exposed from both Christians and the sons of Belial--and let me add, similar manifestations from all sections of our Church, and from Christian brethren in other and distant parts of the world--have been the more welcome to my grateful heart, from the hope that they have not been merely personal, nor unconnected with an appreciation of my ministerial and episcopal character founded on my manner of life since my first entrance on the diaconate. [I trust I shall be excused for selecting, in the confidence of its proving gratifying to you, the following extract from the letter of a reverend brother, recently returned from an excursion to the Mediterranean in quest of health:--"The clergy of the Church of England, whom I saw in Asia Minor and elsewhere, inquired for you with much interest, and expressed no little sympathy for you in the trials to which some of your official duties have subjected you."]

Efforts have been made, brethren, to deprive me of your confidence by subjecting me to distrust on the score of unsoundness in [7/8] the faith. May I be allowed to say that if ever minister of Christ could make a wide appeal on this subject, your Bishop may humbly presume to do so?

Through the whole of my ministry, extending to nearly thirty two years, I have lived and laboured in this my native city. For nearly the quarter of a century I was a constant preacher in a parish comprising three of the largest congregations in our country, and maintained among them a diligent pastoral intercourse, the opportunities afforded by which for making fully known my theological principles and views I trust I never neglected; and of which my heart prompts me to add, that there were therein formed spiritual alliances that I humbly hope will not be without their influence on heavenly felicity; that the remembrance of it furnishes me with some of my happiest and sweetest moments of reflection; and that its loss is among the largest and most trying sacrifices which I have been called to make to the wider sphere and more onerous burden of obligation which the episcopate has laid upon me.

Very many of the children in the Lord to whom I have thus frankly, fully, and affectionately imparted my views of Christian doctrine, have emigrated to all parts of our diocese and our country.

My episcopate of more than thirteen years has been spent in preaching the word in a diocese which continues after, as it was before another was set off from it, to be by far the largest in the Union; and whence, every year, Churchmen have gone out into all parts of the land.

For about twenty-five years I have been constantly engaged in directing the studies of candidates for the holy ministry. Certainly not less than three hundred of our present clergy, including four of my Right Reverend brethren, settled in all our borders, have thus been made well acquainted with my religious doctrines and views.

I confidently appeal to all, Bishops, Clergy, and Laity, who have thus had ample opportunity of knowing my doctrines and opinions, for the frankness and fulness with which I have ever expressed them. Surely brethren, in any charges or insinuations which may be ventured against me of theological unfaithfulness, I may confidently make a very large application of my Master's appeal in behalf of His integrity, "Ask them which heard me, what I have said unto them. Behold, they know what I said."

[9] It is a comfort for me to reflect, my dear brethren, that such boasting is hardly needful for you. Ye all know what has been my coming in and going out among you; and most sensibly do I feel, and most gratefully do I acknowledge, the manifold evidences I am constantly receiving of your unimpaired confidence and affection. The best return for this are the affectionate love which I ever bear towards you, the constant prayers in which I remember you at the throne of grace, and my heartfelt devotion to your spiritual and eternal good. These, the Lord being my Helper, you shall continue to have. I most sensibly feel indeed that the fulfilment of this sacred, sincere, and honest promise will involve perpetually increasing anxiety and labour. I know that I must more and more withdraw myself from all other than official care, solicitude, and occupation. This, however, I am prepared to do. But I feel that I need herein your faithful fervent prayers for the support, direction, aid, and blessing of the HOLY GHOST. These, dear brethren, let me have.

The necessity for addressing you at this time is connected with a very peculiar and unprecedented state of things in our Church. Evil principles appear to be strengthened in their league against us. Infidel, heretical, and schismatical influences are powerfully at work. There is also enlisted in the same ranks the interference of the merely worldly, careless to what interests they may be joined, provided worldly motives, principles, and agencies may be brought to bear upon its views and designs. And in unhappy illustration of the infection which remaineth even in the regenerate, delusion hath so far come over members of the Church, that she hath within herself agencies tending to the same result, much more worthy of those that are without. Hence have resulted consequences truly painful to the pious heart. Many of the most sacred principles and requirements of the Gospel have been subjected to profane if not blasphemous treatment. Subjects essentially and solely connected with the Church of Christ--that kingdom which is not of this world--have been degraded into entire subservience to secular principles and views. Unblushing efforts have been made to array the sheep of Christ's flock against their pastors. The more faithful these, and the more influenced by holy independence of popular errors and delusions, the more have they been held up to scorn and ridicule, the meanness of which is lost, to the truly Christian mind, in its painful [9/10] sense of their wickedness and impiety. Consequences most baleful to evangelical affections and morals have followed; the courtesies of society been violated; Christian friendships sacrificed; fraternal recognition denied) and the proprieties of relative station sadly overpassed.

We have too to lament, as the result of the unholy excitement which has been stirred up among us, an effort to weaken the hold and diminish the influence of the sound catholic and evangelical principles, which, under God, have been so much blessed to the prosperity and to the efficient energies of our Church; an endeavour to cast suspicion on those whose holy and enlightened devotion to the Church has been marked with signal blessing; and a withholding of aid from the precious cause of the Gospel from the miserable influence of party jealousy.

These, brethren, are grievous evils for which the disturbers of our peace are responsible. Let us unite in humble, faithful prayer that they be not, as they justly may be, visited with sore judgments on our Church. By the blessing of God's heavenly grace, a remedy may be found in an enlightened knowledge, and a just appreciation, of the pure principles of the Gospel in their essential connection with Christ's Holy Catholic Church. These let my reverend brethren present to their people in their genuine scriptural character, and urge with all the heart-stirring motives and sanctions which the Gospel presents.

That all this can best be done in entire conformity with the doctrines, discipline, and worship of our branch of the Catholic Church, I fully and unhesitatingly believe. To understand, appreciate, recommend, and act out "the Church as it is," is the very best mode of strengthening and advancing those Protestant principles which are opposed to papal errors, and those Catholic principles which are opposed to all errors, whether papal or protestant; and thus to promoting the true interests of the blessed Gospel.

An important auxiliary to this end would be, my reverend brethren, a prudent and judicious but firm and decided effort to restore the practical observance of the Church's holy provisions for Daily Morning and Evening Prayer, and for hallowing all Sundays and Holy Days with the celebration of the Lord's Supper. To this end let the clergy labour; duly considering, however, that it must be expected that so great and blessed a change [10/11] from the present influences of the god of this world, cannot be expected to be suddenly wrought, and that long, earnest, and faithful endeavours to produce, by the Divine blessing, an acquiescence in the principle, and a gradual approximation to its full development in action, must be expected first to exercise our Christian patience and hope.

And be ye not, dear brethren of the laity, backward in encouraging your pastors in such holy efforts to do full justice to the pious provisions, appointments, and requirements of the Church.

Our only hope, in all times of trial for the Church, is in the LORD our GOD. And surely we can have no truer refuge to Him than in that Church's holy communion with Him in her prayers and praises, and especially her eucharistic commemoration of the LORD'S death, and the means which she is therein commissioned to administer of the grace and salvation which that death procured.

Let the claim which is so generally put forth among us to attachment to "the Church as it is," be truly honest, and her provisions will be gladly followed in all efforts to restore the unity and harmony which should subsist among the members of the one body of Christ.

And let me, dear brethren, clergy and laity, especially press upon you the importance of ever looking upon the Church in its true and essential spiritual character. It has to do with spiritual and eternal things. However combined, in its militant state, this its great object may be with circumstances and relations of a secular character, these are not of it. They are but appendages connected with it. They are valueless for its genuine purposes, if separated from its spirituality. They are degrading and dangerous to it, and destructive of the Christian character and hopes of its members, if made paramount in their estimate and regard. Therefore do I earnestly and affectionately commend to your most serious study and consideration the true spiritual nature, requirements, and objects of the Church. Your thoughts, cares, and labours must be mainly given to heaven and heavenly things, or you are unfit to duly appreciate the things of the Church of CHRIST. As this is the kingdom of heaven in its incipiency, those whose conversation is not in heaven can have no just view of what rightly pertains to it, and may, by thoughtless interference, [11/12] and much more by deliberately bad intent, in obtruding into its concerns, be guilty of blasphemy before God.

These things I would impress upon the clergy, for their right guidance in the instruction of their people, and upon all for their thorough and practical adoption.

Especially, dear brethren, do I exhort you to continue steadfast and unmoveable in the principles of the blessed Gospel of our Lord and Saviour JESUS CHRIST. Be these your guide in the cultivation of individual character, in the discharge of domestic duty, in the regulation of social intercourse, and in all your civil relations and duties. In them all let your light shine before men in the affections, virtues, and good works of the Gospel--its purity, sanctity, and heavenly mindedness. In no other way can you do justice to the Church, and promote the interests of pure and undefiled evangelical religion. This too is the armour wherewith you may be prepared to meet every opposition, open or cloaked, to the true doctrine and order of the Gospel. Let there then be no just imputation upon the clergy for unwillingness to preach, and none upon the laity for unwillingness to receive, the pure and unadulterated Gospel.

We have, brethren, but to hold fast the profession to which we were devoted in baptism, and all is safe. When the world, the flesh, and the devil are truly renounced by Christians, the Church will be secure; her sacred principles rightly appreciated; her holy duties faithfully discharged; her true spirit imbibed; and she, at unity in herself, be carried onward to the triumph which her LORD has in reserve for her here and in heaven.

To this end, brethren, be ye true to your solemn Christian league. Let heresy distract, schism deride, and worldliness neutralize as they will. Be yours the steadfast mind and purpose to pursue the one straight path of catholic faith, piety, and unity.

And that God's blessing may herein and in all things rest upon you, is the sincere prayer of

Your affectionate Pastor,


Bishop of New York.

New York, January 27, 1844.

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