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An Open Letter to the Commission in Regard to the Proposed Concordat

A Plea for Peace and Unity in the Episcopal Church

By William T. Manning

New York: The Diocese of New York, no date.





Dear Brethren:--

As one who is deeply concerned for the cause of Christian Unity, and for the peace of the Church, I address this letter to you who have been appointed to represent the Church in this matter. Through nearly all the years of my ministry I have been actively associated with movements for Christian Unity. At the General Convention in Cincinnati, in 1910, it was my privilege to help to formulate, and to offer, the resolution the adoption of which officially initiated the Movement for a World Conference on. Faith and Order and ever since that time I have served on our Commission for the World Conference Movement, which has borne great results and which promises to bear results still greater.

The Chairman of your Commission has asked, rightly, that the Proposed Concordat between the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. shall be considered in the spirit of love, and of desire for unity, and it is in that spirit that I write this letter. I write in the spirit of love for both the Catholic-minded and the Protestant-minded members of our own Church as well as for our Presbyterian brethren, whose loyalty to their principles and convictions I deeply respect and admire, and many of whom have declared themselves in strong opposition to the proposed Concordat.

In that spirit I most earnestly beg and urge you to withdraw entirely this Concordat the advocacy of which is bringing apprehension and dismay to great numbers of our clergy and people, and as to which even your own Commission is not united.

[2] In view of the whole present world situation it seems more than ever important to abstain from action which will certainly not produce unity but will, if pressed, produce a situation in the Church which none of us would wish to see.

(1) I urge you to withdraw this proposed Concordat because if adopted it would work untold harm to the cause of Christian Reunion in its larger and wider aspects. In all our efforts for unity we must keep before us the fact that Christian Reunion does not mean a union only of Protestants on the one hand, or of Catholics on the other, but that it means the reunion of the whole of Christendom. As we all know, the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church hold a providentially-given middle place between the Catholic Churches of the world and the Protestant Churches, and thus have a unique opportunity to serve as a mediating influence in drawing these two great sections of Christendom nearer to each other. The Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church would not aid the cause of Christian Reunion, but would gravely injure it, if in order to draw nearer to the Protestant Churches they repudiated or compromised those principles which identify them with the Catholic Churches. In the judgment of many competent theologians and scholars the adoption of the proposed Concordat would be such a repudiation.

(2) I urge you to withdraw the proposed Concordat because its terms are not in accord with the faith and doctrine of the Episcopal Church and if adopted it will bring not only discord but actual division in the Church. To suppose that this Concordat is disapproved by only one party in the Church is quite untrue, it is disapproved by all who hold to the Faith and Order of the Church as the Prayer Book declares it.

In common with all the historic Catholic Communions both of the East and of the West, in common with the whole of the Anglican Communion throughout the world, and in common [2/3] with at least two-thirds of all the Christians in this world at the present time, the Episcopal Church believes in the office and functions of the priesthood and that Episcopal Ordination is necessary for the exercise of that office. This is the belief expressed plainly in her Prayer Book, in her Constitution and Canons, and in her practice through all her history. That this is the doctrine of the Episcopal Church is made clear beyond all question by the fact that in the Episcopal Church and in the whole of the Anglican Communion a priest from the Roman Catholic Church or from the Eastern Catholic Churches is received without reordination whereas a minister from any of the Protestant Churches must be reordained.

But the Presbyterian Church honestly and conscientiously rejects this belief in the office of the priesthood and in the necessity of Episcopal Ordination for that office.

The Episcopal Church declares solemnly and officially, in her Prayer Book, "that from the Apostles' time there have been these Orders of Ministers in Christ's Church Bishops, Priests, and Deacons" and "therefore, to the intent that these Orders may be continued, and reverently used and esteemed in this Church, no man shall be accounted or taken to be a lawful Bishop, Priest, or Deacon, in this Church, or suffered to execute any of the said Functions, except he hath had Episcopal Consecration or Ordination."

The Presbyterian Church in its official statement sent to the world Conference on Faith and Order, and published in 1934, says--"It is difficult to see how the Presbyterian Church can enter into union with Churches which regard as essential the acceptance of the Episcopacy as being historic in the sense that it can be traced directly back to the Apostles and as such is a sine qua non of the Church of Jesus Christ, or is even necessary for its bene esse." This is part of the statement approved and submitted by the Department of Church Cooperation and Union [3/4] of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. and signed by its Chairman, the Rev. J. Ross Stevenson, and its Secretary, the Rev. Lewis Seymour Mudge--(see "Convictions," edited by the Rev. Leonard Hodgson, pages 81-83).

In the light of the clear, definite, and official statement above quoted, the statement in the proposed Concordat that both Churches "believe in Episcopal Ordination" is a strange one. It is evident that the two Churches use these words in entirely different senses and with quite different meanings.

We shall all be thankful indeed if organic union can be achieved between the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church or any other great body of Christians, but if organic union is to be achieved, it must be in accordance with Catholic Faith and Order and must be based not upon ambiguous statements but upon the mutual acceptance of principles clearly expressed and fully understood.

(3) The proposed Concordat is one of those well meant but mistaken efforts to promote unity by the use of ambiguous phrases which cover up fundamental differences. It is an attempt to do what that apostle of true unity, the late Dr. William R. Huntington, described as "sticking the denominations together at their edges." The plan proposed for the commissioning, or "authorizing" of ministers is an impossible one, and certainly carries ambiguity to its furthest limits. The alternate form of ordination in our Prayer Book, with some significant changes, is to be used but the Concordat says that this will not be a reordination. Evidently the Presbyterians have been given to understand that it will not be Episcopal Ordination. What then will it be? If it were Episcopal Ordination to the priesthood in the Prayer Book meaning of these words the Presbyterian Church would certainly not accept it. But if it is not, if it means, as in fact it does, that those who have not been Episcopally ordained are to be "authorized" to administer the sacraments this [4/5] means that the Episcopal Church would have repudiated the principle of Episcopacy and Priesthood for which it has always stood, that it would be a different Church from that which it has always been, and that by this action it would have denied its Catholic heritage and separated itself from the Anglican Communion and from Catholic Christendom.

Even if it were true, as the Concordat says, that both the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church "believe in Episcopal Ordination," which they manifestly do not in at all the same sense and meaning, our Presbyterian brethren tell us that they freely receive Ministers from any of the Protestant Churches without reordination and under the proposed Concordat these Ministers also would be "authorized" to exercise the functions of the priesthood by this form of commissioning which is "not to be regarded as a reordination."

With regard to Confirmation, the Concordat assumes that this is the equivalent of, and no more than, a "profession of faith." But the Episcopal Church and the whole of Catholic Christendom hold that Confirmation is far more; than this. And the Concordat provides that a Minister of the Presbyterian Church, who naturally does not regard Confirmation as important and has not himself been Confirmed, is to "prepare and present for Confirmation those who are desirous of being admitted to communicant membership in the Episcopal Church." The inconsistency and unreality of this procedure needs no comment. Would any Confirmation Class fail to see the incompatibility between this Minister's teaching and his practice?

The great differences in the belief of the two Churches as to the sacrament of the Holy Communion are evident from the public discussion of them which is taking place.

[6] The Rev. Dr. McCartney who has been Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church and other leading Presbyterian Ministers have publicly expressed their disapproval of this Concordat. From Dr. McCartney's full and clear statement I quote the following paragraphs. The proposed Concordat, he says, "is undesired by the rank and file of both Churches," it is "not necessary to good will and brotherly relationship for this already exists," it "is unworkable and would add nothing to the efficiency of either Church." "If in this proposed plan," he says, "the laying on of the hands of the Bishop, and the laying on of the hands of the Presbytery, is not a reordination, then what is it? To call it a commissioning is a mere subterfuge." "It is true," Dr. McCartney says, "that there are distinguished voices in the Episcopal Church today which speak lightly of the doctrine of Apostolic descent and generously ascribe to Presbyterian orders full and. equal validity with their own. But this certainly is not the position of the Episcopal Church. Presbyterians would do well to study the response given by the Bishops of the Episcopal Church at the last Lambeth Conference to the questions submitted to that Conference by a delegation of the Greek Orthodox Church. . . . The statement of the Lambeth Conference as to Holy Orders and Apostolic Succession is quite different from that which is implied in the proposed Concordat." These are Dr. McCartney's words and they come from him with special force.

(4) It is clear that this proposed Concordat will not promote unity, and it is certain that it will not promote peace in the Episcopal Church. It will sow dissension in our' ranks where now there is peace and harmony and a steadily deepening spirit of understanding and fellowship between the more Protestant-minded and the more Catholic-minded members of our Communion. As Bishop of a Diocese which includes every kind and type of churchmanship I know whereof I speak. This Concordat is not a unifying measure, it is a measure which cannot possibly [6/7] be accepted by those who wholeheartedly believe the principles and teachings of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as these have come to us from the undivided Catholic and Apostolic Church and are set forth in our Prayer Book. No measure should be forced to an issue in the name of Unity if it will do violence to the consciences of large numbers of our clergy and people. Individual Bishops, or others, may say and do strange things but if "authority" so acts as to commit the Church itself to a position which large numbers of its members believe to be a repudiation of essential principles then, a crisis is created.

Already the Chairman of your Commission has felt moved to rebuke publicly so beloved and revered a priest as Father Hughson for declaring his convictions in this matter and has told Father Hughson that, in doing this, he and others are showing "the spirit of schism." But surely it is right for Father Hughson to state clearly the situation in which this proposed action would place him and many others. To do this is not to "threaten" but to give needed, and greatly needed, information. If it is the fact, as it is, that many of our clergy and people would be unable in conscience to accept these proposed changes in the Church's position, is it not their duty to say so? Bishop Parsons tells Father Hughson that the Anglican Communion has never committed itself to the principle that the priesthood is necessary for the administration of the sacraments and that the episcopate is necessary for the priesthood. How then does Bishop Parsons explain the fact that in the Anglican Communion a priest from any of the historic Catholic Churches is received without reordination while a minister from any of the Protestant Churches must be reordained? If Bishop Parsons' statement is correct the practice of the Anglican Communion is inexplicable and its official formularies are most misleading and should be changed.

Our Prayer Book requires every Bishop, at his consecration, to promise that he will labour to set forward "quietness, love, and peace among all men." It is with this desire and in this spirit that I beg and urge that the proposed Concordat be laid aside. I [7/8] do not believe that this Concordat will be adopted but if it were adopted I am certain that the Episcopal Church would be faced with the gravest crisis in its history.

Let the conferences with our Presbyterian brethren be continued with the hope that in time, by God's grace and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, a true organic union may be achieved with no compromise of Catholic principle; and in the meantime the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church can continue in that brotherly spirit which already exists, each with full respect for the conscientious beliefs and convictions of the other. But at such a time as this especially when we are in the midst of the tragedy of World War the consequences of which no one can foretell, so impossible a measure. as the proposed Concordat, a measure which will not promote unity but will create dissension and division in our own Church and Household should, without delay, be withdrawn.

Bishop of New York

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