Project Canterbury






A Sermon preached in

The Cathedral of St. John the Divine


The Right Reverend
William T. Manning
Bishop of New York




Sunday             Oct. 5th, 1930


"The Lord God omnipotent reigneth"

Revelation XIX, 6

IN THIS Metropolitan Diocese with its five thousand five hundred square miles of territory, its more than. five hundred canonically connected and licensed clergy, its great number of parishes and missions, and its numerous and important educational, charitable and missionary institutions, there are many things demanding my thought and attention, but to-day I want to bring into view certain facts in regard to this Cathedral. I feel it right to speak of this on my first Sunday this autumn in this pulpit, for our City and Country are deeply interested in this undertaking and it has been said with truth that the building of a great Cathedral is an event in the world's spiritual history. The public interest in the Cathedral is very great, and is constantly increasing. The Visitors Book shows that among those coming to its services are people of all faiths, from every State in the Union and from every Country in the world. During the past twelve months the Cathedral has been visited by more than two hundred thousand people.

I can speak freely of this work for it is not of my devising. It is more than fifty years since this project was inaugurated. The names of Bishop Horatio Potter, Bishop Henry C. Potter, Bishop Greer and many others will be forever identified with this great building. It was those who went before us who saw the vision which we are striving to fulfill, and who initiated this magnificent enterprise which we are carrying forward.

Here in America's greatest City, with its crowding business structures, and its mighty temples of commerce, we are erecting, on this noble eminence where its towers can never be overtopped, a building to symbolize the place of Religion in our life, a Cathedral which in the judgment of qualified critics will be one of the noblest ever erected, and which even in size and area will be one of the three greatest in the world.

Mr. J. Bernard Walker, late Editor Emeritus of The Scientific American says "When the student who has familiarized himself with the. mediaeval Cathedrals enters the Nave of St. John's, looks through the two lines of soaring columns that sweep, unbroken, from floor to roof, and appreciates the vast stretch of 96 feet from clerestory window to clerestory window, he will realize that here is something which, for sheer majesty of effect, is unmatched among the Cathedrals of the world". That is the judgment of an expert.

And even. for this City of New York, accustomed as it is to large projects, I think we can say that the progress of this undertaking during the past five years has been encouraging. During that period the noble Baptistry has been built, the great Nave has been erected and is now almost complete, the magnificent West Front with its two Towers has been commenced and carried far forward, and the North Transept, the great gift of the women, is well under way. But great as these portions of the Cathedral are they leave much still to be done.

The colossal Central Tower is yet to be built to replace the temporary Dome which now covers the Crossing, the Choir and Chancel have to be reconstructed and greatly increased in height to harmonize with the present glorious plans of the whole structure, the Transeptal Porches and the South Transept are not yet begun, but all who now walk through the Nave and look at the partly finished West Front, with its five sculptured Portals, can see what the majesty and beauty of the Cathedral is to be.

In a little over five years the sum of thirteen million dollars has been contributed. A portion of this has been added to the endowment but by far the greater part has been spent in actual building. Large sums were expended in previous years and it will require at least another ten million dollars to complete the great edifice, in addition to which there must be increased endowment and the erection of the necessary auxiliary buildings. We cannot of course have great things without great cost.

But is this great expenditure justified, and its it right to ask for gifts for this work at the present time? The latter question can be briefly answered. The carrying forward of the work on the Cathedral is directly iii accord with the policy that is now being urged upon us for the lessening of unemployment. Practically all the money given for the Cathedral Building Fund goes for labour and is paid out in wages to the workers. The value of the materials is so small as to be negligible. There can be no better way of providing employment than by carrying forward the work on this great civic and religious enterprise.

As to the second question, "Is this large expenditure justified?" there is much indeed to be said. What words can express the influence, the power, the values, educational, moral, and spiritual, of a great Cathedral? This Cathedral will be an ornament, and an honour, to our City and to our whole Country. It will be a glorious monument of architecture and art. It will stand as a symbol of the noblest ideals and aspirations of this Metropolis.

It will be an educational influence of the first importance. There is nothing which speaks to the minds and souls of men more powerfully than great architecture.

It will be a mighty. influence for fellowship and unity. A Cathedral is this in its very nature. It stands free and open to all equally. It has no special congregation of its own. It keeps no list of members or communicants. No group of people have preferred rights to its seats. It is the Cathedral of the Diocese of New York but in a sense and to a degree in which no parochial Church with its own special congregation can be, it is a House of Prayer for all people. It is a great centre for the expression of our civic life. In this building vast assemblies gather on national and civic occasions. On such occasions people of all kinds throng its space and Ministers of all Churches speak from its pulpit, and they say often, "What should we do without the Cathedral?" When the Building is completed the experts tell us there will be standing room in it for forty thousand people and with the use of the amplifiers every one will be able to hear.

Amid the unceasing changes of our life this great Building will stand through the ages. Its walls of solid granite, resting on rock of unknown depth, should stand like the everlasting hills. The memorials erected here will be as permanent as anything in this world can be. Here in this Cathedral is something which will bear its witness to our children's children, and stand from generation to generation.

All these values of the Cathedral, and many more, are real and important but there is one value that is greater than all of these. The one thing that justifies the building of the Cathedral is that it shall make more real in our life the Power and Presence of the Living God. We have recently been reminded that to-day the realization of God seems to be absent from the minds of many people: There is much all about us to show this, and the faith of some who wish to believe in Him seems to be resolving itself more and more into mere subjectivism.

This Cathedral stands for the presence of Almighty God and for the place which belongs to Him in our life as a people. Its message is "the Lord God omnipotent reigneth".

Here in this Metropolis of the New World we are erecting this great Building for no material or utilitarian purpose but to witness to the things that are eternal.

This Building speaks to men of the Heavenly realities, of the power and glory of the Supernatural.

It tells us that whether we heed Him or not, whether we believe in Him or not, whatever our little philosophies may say of Him, the Almighty and Eternal God reigns, and we must all give our account to Him. And it tells us that the hope of the world lies in our faithfulness to Him as He shows Himself to us in His Son Christ our Lord.

When Napoleon first entered the Cathedral at Chartres he stood for some minutes in silence and then, turning to those who stood by him, he said "an atheist would feel ill at ease in this building".

It will be so with those who enter this completed Building. All men feel the message of a great Cathedral. There is in it a sense of mystery, of greatness, of the nearness of things Divine. In. it everything speaks of faith and hope; of prayer and worship, all leading up to the great Alter, its supreme and central feature, the symbol of the Presence of the Living. God. "God is in the midst of us", that is what the Cathedral says to us.

As one who often worships here has written "the Cathedral is a fitting place to chant Te Deums, the Credo, the Magnificat, the Benedictus, the Nunc Dimittis, and to offer up our worship day by day, month after month, century after century, thus achieving a continuity of spirit which it is not given to transitory man to achieve in many ways. In such a building all conspires to lift the worshipper out of his petty, provincial, personal self into mystic and joyful fellowship with God and man", and to stir him to sympathy and prayer for all mankind.

I believe that any man who spends some time each week in such a building as this Cathedral will find it more difficult to commit a base or mean or petty act, or to think unkindly of his fellow men.

Supremely the Cathedral preaches to us the Gospel of Beauty, and it is this that we need in our lives, the Beauty that comes forth from God. God has planted in all of us the longing for beauty, for greatness, for perfection. Here in this great Temple speaking to us of our fellowship with God we find that deep instinct of our souls visibly and gloriously expressed.

The Cathedral speaks to us of the limitless possibilities of our human nature. It tells us that "nothing is too great, or too high, or too beautiful, to be true", that all this world is God's, and that everything in Art, in Music, in the Theatre, in Literature, in Education, should lift us nearer to Him.

Standing in these aisles we realize that nothing that is not beautiful, nothing that is unjust or sordid, or unclean, can have any right place in our lives.

The Cathedral stands for the beauty and greatness of human life, not as it is but as Christ will make it, and so it stands for unending progress, for everything that will make this a better City, for everything that will make human life nobler and happier, and this world a better place for men, and women, and children to live in.

This is what the Cathedral stands for in the life of our City and Country.

Is it not worth our devotion and our effort? Let us build it for the help of all who will use it. In the words of our great fellow citizen Elihu Root let us build it "as a testimony that the lessons of our God-fearing fathers have not been forgotten, and as a contribution of America to the spiritual life of mankind".

Let us build it as a witness to the whole world of our faith in God, in our fellow men, and in all the future.

Project Canterbury