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Morgan Dix: Priest and Doctor

A Sermon Preached by William T. Manning, Bishop of New York in Trinity Church

At the Service Commemorating the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Birth of Dr. Dix
November 6, 1927

New York: no publisher, 1927.

Digitized by Richard Mammana from a copy supplied by Meg Smith, Archivist of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut, 2012

"They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever."—Daniel xii-3.

THE Catholic Church throughout the world is now keeping the blessed season of All Saints, when we think especially of those who, having borne their faithful witness for Christ in this life, have gone on before us into the life beyond. And it is most appropriate that on this Sunday we should remember, and give thanks for, the life and example of that great Priest and Teacher who, for more than half a century, served at the altars of this parish, and during forty-six years was its rector, for on All Saints Day, one hundred years ago, Morgan Dix was born.

Trinity Parish is a synonym for steadfastness, loyalty and strength. From the day of the granting of her charter in 1697 she has stood in this community as a great bulwark for religion, for righteousness, and for loyal citizenship. In Trinity’s oldest Chapel, St. Paul’s, George Washington, with both Houses of Congress, attended the service which completed the ceremonies of his inauguration as [3/4] First President of the United States, and that service was conducted by Samuel Provoost, then Rector of Trinity, who was also the first Bishop of New York.

So large a part have Trinity Parish, and the Episcopal Church, played in the life of this city, and of our country, from the beginning. And at the risk of still further alarming certain students of American history in Chicago I may add that Trinity Parish stands, and we trust will always stand, as a great symbol and reminder of the love and fellowship between America and Great Britain, and between our own Church and the Anglican Communion throughout the world.

The great strength of the Episcopal Church in this City and Diocese, and in the State of New York, is in large measure due to the steadfastness, and the large-hearted generosity of Trinity Parish, and to the faithfulness with which she has discharged her high trust. And those qualities which have been the strength of Trinity Parish were reflected, in eminent degree, in the life of her faithful son, and distinguished rector, of whom we are thinking today. It is right that not only the Church but this city, and our country, should [4/5] recall the example of his life, and the service that he rendered. With Morgan Dix love of country and loyal citizenship were a part of his religion. Some of his most marked qualities he inherited from his father, General John A. Dix, whose civic and public services are well known. There was in him an almost military sense of duty and of discipline. He stood with all his force against that poor, shallow thinking which seeks to belittle the ideal of patriotism, and to cast discredit upon the great names of our past.

His teaching was that if a man is to be a true citizen of the world, he must first show himself a true citizen of his own land, loyal to the primary obligations of Home, and Church and Nation. For this he stood with his whole strength both in word and in life. He was subjected often to attack, and even to scurrilous abuse, as every man is who bears strong witness for the right, but this never seemed in the least to affect him, or to disturb the calmness of his spirit.

Among the great rectors that Trinity Church has had in the 230 years of her history the two who stand out preeminent, are Bishop John Henry Hobart and Morgan Dix, both [5/6] of them influencing profoundly their own time, and still inspiring us who come after them by their fearless, unwavering witness for the Christian Faith in all its Divine power.

I remember, as though it were yesterday, the Sunday after Dr. Dix's death when I stood in this pulpit and tried to express something of the loss which had come to the Parish and to the Church. Many of you will remember the message which Bishop Potter, then very near to his own end, sent out to the Clergy of the Diocese. "Dr. Dix," Bishop Potter wrote, "was so preeminently a part of the Diocese, as the Rector of Trinity Church, as the President of the Standing Committee, as the Chairman of a great host of organized good works, that it is difficult to think of the Church without him. But he was, most of all, dear to those who really knew him for personal qualities altogether exceptional. He united with a lofty ecclesiasticism a singular tenderness for humanity, whatever its errors of faith or conduct, he touched life at so many points with sentiment equally refined, faithful and gracious, that no one could know him without the homage of affectionate respect for great and rare gifts." The influence of [6/7] Morgan Dix on the life of the Church was indeed great and far reaching.

He rendered important service in the field of Christian education and, together with Dr. Muhlenberg, he led in establishing the monastic life in our Communion. He was the organizer and for many years the spiritual director of the Sisterhood of St. Mary. Throughout his life Morgan Dix stood for the full heritage of our Communion as a part of the historic Catholic Church. In the words of the late Dr. George William Douglas, long intimately associated with him, it was his work "to vindicate for our American Church her title-deeds as a child of the Mother Church of England, and thereby her title to the inheritance, the spirit, and the aims and obligations of the Church Catholic and Apostolic, wherein we affirm our belief in the Creeds." He did much by his teaching and still more by the example of the services here in Trinity Parish, to restore to the Church the true dignity and beauty of her worship, and he was violently denounced for doing this, for men did not then generally recognize, as now happily they do much more generally, that in these matters of ceremonial there [7/8] should be wide liberty. Few people today are deeply disturbed by the carrying of a Processional Cross, the placing of candles on the Altar, or the wearing of a Cope, but it was Morgan Dix, and his leadership here in Trinity Church, that did much to bring us to this larger view. And we have got to move still further in this matter.

We have got to recognize that there is room in this Church for still greater variety and freedom of worship, for services the most simple and the most ornate, for services expressing and ministering to every type of spiritual experience that is true and in harmony with the Gospel.

No account of Morgan Dix's work, however brief, could fail to speak of his fearless and constant witness for the sacredness of Marriage and the Home. In this matter his words were truly prophetic. He warned us again and again of the lowering of ideals, and the breaking down of our standards as to marriage, which must result from the shocking increase of divorce. The movement to abolish marriage has travelled far in the past twenty years since his death, and the advocates of easy [8/9] divorce are now rejecting and deriding the whole teaching of Christ, not only as to marriage but as to decency, morality and purity of life. We know how Morgan Dix's voice would have rung out against the conditions which now face us when University Professors, unrebuked, are teaching the students entrusted to their guidance that "morality is only a matter of geography," when Ministers of Religion are suggesting that the Church shall consider the advisability of giving her sanction to "sex experiments" and "unmarried unions," and even women, heralded as moral leaders and preachers, are telling our young people that fornication is no longer a sin, and commending free love to them, thinly disguised under the name of "Trial Marriage". Let all who have sisters, or daughters, consider what "Trial Marriage," or so-called "Companionate Marriage" means. Surely it is time for the Christian Church to speak out and strip the mask off such teaching as this, and to tell these Apostles of Libertinism, both male and female, in words which no one can misunderstand, that their proposals are a sin against God and against His Laws of life, a shame and dishonor to the time in which [9/10] we live, and an insult to all decent manhood and womanhood.

During my own years as rector here, it fell to my lot to take up the task of freeing this venerable parish from the calumnies, and charges, which for long years, largely through misunderstanding, had been heaped upon it, and I think I may say that this was accomplished. Not for many years now has there been anything resembling the disgraceful attacks, the vulgar and sometimes sacrilegious cartoons, which in the first days of my rectorship, and in the time preceding, were levelled frequently against Trinity Parish.

No institution can escape the slanders of the evil minded, and no institution need fear these, but the old animosities and misunderstandings were overcome, and entirely disappeared. The noble record of Old Trinity, as well as of her great rector, Morgan Dix, are now recognized by all, and we all know how the tradition and the work of this great Mother Parish are being upheld, and carried forward, by your present honored and beloved rector. He and I feel the full meaning of this commemoration, and are especially happy to have our part in it [10/11] together, for we worked together here under the leadership of Morgan Dix.

And on this one hundredth anniversary of his birth, we see more clearly than ever what the Church owes to him. As we look back he stands before us the Scholar, the Theologian, the fearless Preacher of Christ and His Truth, the able Administrator, and before all else the Priest and Guide of souls. We think of Morgan Dix as one of the greatest priests of the American Church. Bishop Doane, his lifelong friend, wrote of him at the time of his death, "Priesthood was ingrained in his nature; and whether at the Altar, or in the Pulpit, his ministration was that of one impressed with the sacredness and reality of his office, and with the intense responsibility of the cure of souls. Whatever of outward form, or ritual, entered into his rendering of worship at the Altar was not a studied conformity to certain precise regulations of posture or of tone; it was the utterance of the spirit that was in his soul." May our young men who are now entering the ministry be inspired to do their part and bear their witness as he did!

It is such lives as his that are the strength of the ministry, and of the Church. We remember him [11/12] here today before this Altar at which he so long served, we give thanks to God for his life and service in the Church on earth, we know that his prayers are still offered for us, and we pray that light perpetual may shine upon him in the fuller life of the Church above.

Obituary Minute adopted by the Committee of Clergymen
Appointed at the Funeral on Thursday April 30th AD 1908 in Trinity Church, New York

On Thursday, April 30th, A. D. 1908, at a meeting of the Clergy who were present at the funeral of the Rev'd Morgan Dix, S.T.D., LL.D., D.C.L., late Rector of Trinity Church, New York, the undersigned were appointed by the Rt. Rev'd David H. Greer, D.D., Bishop Coadjutor of the Diocese, as a Committee to draft resolutions or a Minute, expressive of the feelings of those present and of those unavoidably absent, in view of our recent bereavement. What we say can but imperfectly convey an idea of the depth of the impression made by the sudden departure of this distinguished man, who was also to many of us brother, pastor, and friend. Events of this importance call forth more than the grief naturally caused by the visit of death to the house: they shock men by the consciousness that a treasure jointly owned by large numbers has been taken from their hands, and that a force potent for good throughout the community has been withdrawn to a higher sphere. He whom we have lost may be said to have belonged to the whole Church, and to the people at large; he was a link whereby men of divers names and vocations and origin were united, in one way or another, in the great household of God which is larger than any parish, or city, or diocese, and even than any nation.

We think of him first as a representative of the Diocese of New York in the General Convention of our American Church, where for years he presided in the House of Deputies with rare dignity, courtesy and justice, and with that characteristic intellectual poise and spiritual detachment which commanded the confidence and regard of his associates. Although in matters ecclesiastical he was a man of strong personal convictions evident to all, no one could accuse him of unfair partisanship in the presidential chair, and political wire-pulling was to him impossible. Even when gainsaying an antagonist, his opposition did not leave a sting,—so much so, that in his later years many of his theological opponents, in our Communion and in other Communions, struck hands with him in a feeling of true fellowship, having learned from him a lesson of agreement in controversy, and of tolerant devotion to the common cause which it is never too late to learn. As a debater in the Convention his speech was always weighty; for his thought was clear and his words were few, though charged, when necessary, with a fire that was none the less effective because it was kept down. And these same traits had long previously manifested themselves in the councils and committees of the Diocese of New York, and in all the various organizations, educational, civic and eleemosynary, of which he was a member. To many of these as Rector of Trinity Church he belonged ex officio; but he brought to them not merely the prestige of his great position, but the influence of his high personal character, of his regularity and faithfulness.

We think of him next as Rector of the mother church of New York, the most important parish in this country, whose wealth, inherited from earlier days and a different national regime, has rendered the corporation of "The Rector, Wardens and Vestrymen of Trinity Church, New York," the most potent parochial organization, for good or evil, in the world. When Morgan Dix became its Rector two generations ago, although this parish was even then relatively a power in the land, it was, from the standpoint of our time, "the day of small things." Dr. Dix came to it in the truest sense a citizen to the manner born; representing the best results so far of the social, academic and professional culture of this community. With the exception of less than three years, he had lived his life and done his work as a school-boy, as a collegian, as a seminarian, and as an ecclesiastic, in the city of New York; whereas among his most noted contemporaries few were city born. It is proverbial that the sons of rich men and of great men seldom enhance the station which they inherit; but Dr. Dix added ten talents to his inherited ten, and that in full view of the community which held in recollection his father's record of civic and personal distinction. In the words of the Psalmist, " God heard his vows, and gave him the heritage of those that fear God's name." The faith which dwelt first in his father and his mother was in him also,—a blessed predestination to the life of faith, to which he was not disobedient in the patient, laborious years of a long career. To the end his early home explained him; yet he outgrew it as a strong man should, growing from strength to strength; although the sweet memories of it' and the sense of the everlasting value of the home, clung to him. As a boy he knew the joys of social refinement and ample means, the wit and wisdom of the intellectual life fraught with historic associations. He had behind him a strong mother and a patriotic father who, between them, created an atmosphere for their son, wherein the quality of the scholar and the artist blended with something of the soldier who feared God but not man, and understood that duty is stern. His father was a public man, and it was an industrious home, with the same habits of quiet punctuality which were afterward to characterize the Rector of Trinity Parish throughout his life. Fond of frolic with his intimates, and possessed of abounding humour to oil the wheels of labour, young Dix seemed nevertheless from the start to be enlisted like a soldier to accept as a matter of course the tasks of a vast routine. For little things and great things he was alike conscientiously responsible, and wonderful for equanimity and quiet nerves.

Upon the Christian Ministry he entered with evident awe, and a certain consequent severity is visible in the portrait of him by Huntington, painted after the full rectorship of Trinity Parish had been laid upon his shoulders. From that day forward his influence radiated from the posts whence the true priest's influence always radiates: the altar and the pulpit. Whatever Morgan Dix was elsewhere began from what he was in the pulpit and at the altar. No breath of scandalous suspicion, no attribution of wrong motives ever tarnished his name. He bore the message, and he had the mind of Christ. Over in England in those days—the days that followed the Tractarian Movement—it was said of Oxford that the most remarkable thing about it was not the architecture and traditions, but the number of men you met in the streets and quadrangles whom you knew to be unworldly, "setting their affections on things above, not on things on the earth"; and such was the inevitable impression that Dr. Dix made on all who knew him. A lady who at that period met him, unobserved, as he was walking his accustomed way to his office of a weekday, said of him, "Ah, you can see in his face that he is determined to keep the devil down!" He had a profound sense of the supernatural. And to this was added the inimitable impression of intellectual and moral certainty, of religious conviction. "He knew Whom he had believed." While many of his contemporaries were shifting their theological positions from time to time under the stress of new influences, early in his ministry he took his position promptly, and kept it thereafter on the whole. Standing on what he felt was a theological terra firma, he did his best work and dealt his best blows at an age when most clergymen are beating the air; and always his predominating zeal was for the glory of God and the salvation of souls. His real work in those days was his cure of souls, in which he developed an intense spiritual energy; and, besides this, to vindicate for our American Church her title-deeds as a child of the mother Church of England, and thereby her title to the inheritance, the spirit, and the aims and obligations of the Church Catholic and Apostolic, wherein we affirm our belief in the Creeds. To Dr. Dix’s mind the Via Media of the Oxford Tractarians was not a theory, but a fact, preserved in our Prayer Book and realized among us. He was sure that the Anglican Church went into the crucible of the Reformation as the Church of England, and came out of it as the Church of England, and planted afterward in America this Church of ours as a true daughter of the ancient stock. Therefore when he spoke of the Catholic Church and churchmen of earlier ages—of a Leo, or a Gregory, or an Augustine, or a Chrysostom—it was as of his own forbears in the ministry of Christ to men. His mind was attuned to Holy Scripture as expounded by the early Fathers, and their prayers and the early Liturgies fell naturally from his lips,—so naturally, that there was no book of private devotions which he preferred to Bishop Andrewes's in the original Greek and Latin, where the expressions of the Scriptures and the Fathers and the Liturgies are fused in one. Withal he had an innate sense of law. He never practised any ritual which he did not believe to be lawful in this land and Church of ours, and his supreme care was for the beauty of holiness. No one could doubt that who ever heard him pray. By the bedside of the sick he might at first sight be esteemed somewhat cold and reserved, a trifle constrained in manner; but when he fell upon his knees all that passed away, and there came into his voice in prayer a beseeching, penetrating tone which, once heard, could never be forgotten. Then you knew that Dr. Dix watched for souls, as they that must give account. And, unlike many clergymen, he was able to carry this same beseeching, penetrating tone into his rendering of the public prayers, so that his intoning of the Church Service was a model in its easy naturalness and sweetness. He did not ‘sing,’ he ‘said’ the prayers, in the true sense of the old Prayer Book rubric. And the rare recollection of mind and concentration of spirit with which he celebrated Holy Communion made one feel as if so it must have been said in the Catacombs by the martyrs, ere they went forth to the lions. When he entered the pulpit there was something of the same. Bishop Hobart in the pulpit of Trinity Church had rendered the former style of conventional eloquence impossible; and when Dr. Dix followed him, after an interval, through all the pulpits of the parish the knell of the old embroidered sermon was sounded. Alike in the chapels and the mother church the effect was noticeable on all his assistants of the terse, incisive beauty of the Rector's style and his English undefiled. No man in America could make words serve him with finer skill than Morgan Dix, and to those who knew the English tongue and literature his sentences were packed with subtle allusions and references that were a constant charm even on the printed page; but when he spoke from the pulpit there was, when he was at his best, the added power of a voice that could be resonant and sharp with reprobation, or full of melody and tenderest appeal. Withal he possessed the power of the true judge's charge to the jury: his statement of the case was the best of arguments.

It is impossible in this Minute to tell the story of his multiform activities, or even to allude to all of them, or to the books he published. We have dwelt rather on his more personal traits of character, for another generation will know nothing of these; but we have known them, and now we feel their loss. Mention must at least be made of his work in promoting the organization of the Sisters of St. Mary, whose director he was for years, and for whom he composed the Book of Hours, which of its kind is a landmark in this country, and indicates the range and accuracy of Dr. Dix’s liturgical knowledge and taste. Dr. Muhlenberg had led the way, and had developed the idea of Sisterhoods up to a certain point; but it was chiefly Dr. Dix, with the sanction of Bishop Horatio Potter and the weight of Trinity Church, who really secured for Sisters, in the conventual sense of the term, a place and a hearing in our American Church. For scholarship proper he had little time, though the disposition and tools of the scholar were amply his; and in his earlier ministry his published commentaries on St. Paul’s Epistles to the Romans, Galatians, and Colossians gave testimony to his bent. He was often in those days the object of scurrilous abuse, and was accused of Romanizing; whereas in fact he gave to Tractarianism a steady base in America, and proved once more the truth of the observation that few who studied the Scriptures deeply have gone over from our Communion to the Church of Rome. For the improvement of Church Music, and the progress among us of the Choral Service, he did more than will ever be known; for into this, in his unobtrusive way, he threw the whole influence and the resources of his parish; and somehow many clergymen and laymen, who would not have liked such music or such methods for themselves, seemed to feel that it was well and proper for Trinity Parish to show what might be done in that line if anybody had the means and a mind to. When he came to his parish in 1862, beside Trinity Church there were only St. Paul’s and St. John’s and Trinity Chapel; with their Churchyards which, when there was a move to sell them as valuable real estate, his ardent sense of the Christian's duty to the dead enabled him to have preserved as silent witnesses, amidst this world's business, to our faith in the life of the world to come. But although Dr. Dix's administration was thus conservative, he was keen to perceive that the main task of a rich church should be among the poor. Not only did he, as Assistant Rector, reside in a house in Hubert Street among the poor; not only did he, as Rector, insist for many years on living in the old Varick Street Rectory long after that neighbourhood had been deserted by the fashionable; not only did he find his greatest happiness in his day-school and sundayschool and house to house visiting among the poor; but during his rectorship it began to be his vestry’s policy to establish new mission chapels, beside Trinity Chapel and St. Agnes' which ministered rather to the well-to-do. Hence arose St. Chrysostom’s and St. Augustine's Chapels; and St. Cornelius’ for the soldiers on Governor's Island; while All Saints’, Henry Street, and St. Luke's, Hudson Street, and finally the Church of the Intercession far up town, were one by one taken under Trinity's fostering care. Meanwhile the chancel of Trinity Church was enlarged and beautified by the Astor-memorial reredos; St. Paul's and St. John's Chapels were renovated and embellished; and the old Rectory in Varick Street was transformed into a Hospital, as the condition on which the Rector would consent to move up town to the new Rectory adjacent to Trinity Chapel. Dr. Dix's personal gifts to charitable objects were unstinted, but little published: his own left hand hardly knew what his right hand did. Furthermore in the progress of the years, much of what is now known as the Settlement idea of parish work was anticipated in Trinity Mission House and the operations of the Trinity Church Association. These works do follow him. Now that he has been withdrawn from us, by these his monuments shall we renew our memories of him with respect and admiration and the tender regard that belong to one who was faithful in the opportunities of a manifold career, calm under frequent misunderstandings and misrepresentations, courageous in adversity, and most beloved by those who knew him best.

The home circle is sacred: we may not there intrude. But it is matter of common knowledge that all children took to him instinctively, and he loved their ways, full of the spirit of Alice in Wonderland. By his talents for drawing with pen and pencil, and of musical improvisation, he was able to engage the fancy of all childlike spirits, young or old. With his wife and children we sympathize in their sorrow, praying that both they and we, with him who has gone before to Paradise, may be found at last in Christ, heirs together of the grace of life.

Brethren, the time is short. The lines which Copernicus traced for his own tombstone were a favourite prayer of Dr Dix’s, and they furnish for ourselves a fitting close to this insufficient sketch of the great and noble soul, our brother in the Ministry, who has gone to his last account.

Non parem Pauli gratiam requiro,
Veniam Petri neque posco, sed quam
In Crucis ligno dederas latroni
Sedulus oro.


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