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A DECADE OF CONTROVERSIES AND SCHISMS.
DURING the period from 1835 to 1845 the spirit of schism seemed to be in the air. In this period no one of the larger organizations of churches was free from agitating controversies, and some of the most important of them were rent asunder by explosion.
At the time when the Presbyterian Church suffered its great schism, in 1837, it was the most influential religious body in the United States. In 120 years its solitary presbytery had grown to 135 presbyteries, including 2140 ministers serving 2865 churches and 220,557 communicants. But these large figures are an inadequate measure of its influence. It represented in its ministry and membership the two most masterful races on the continent, the New England colonists and the Scotch-Irish immigrants; and the tenacity with which it had adhered to the tradition derived through both these lines, of admitting none but liberally educated men to its ministry, had given it exceptional social standing and control over men of intellectual strength and leadership. In the four years beginning with 1831 the additions to its roll of communicants “on examination” had numbered nearly one hundred thousand. But this spiritual growth was chilled and stunted by the dissensions that arose. The revivals ceased and the membership actually dwindled.
The contention had grown (a fact not without parallel in church history) out of measures devised in the interest of coöeration and union. In 1801, in the days of its comparative feebleness, the General Assembly had proposed to the General Association of Connecticut a “Plan of Union” according to which the communities of New England Christians then beginning to move westward between the parallels that bound “the New England zone,” and bringing with them their accustomed Congregational polity, might coöerate on terms of mutual concession with Presbyterian churches in their neighborhood. The proposals had been fraternally received and accepted, and under the terms of this compact great accessions had been made to the strength of the Presbyterian Church, of pastors and congregations marked with the intellectual activity and religious enterprise of the New England churches, who, while cordially conforming to the new methods of organization and discipline, were not in the least penetrated with the traditionary Scotch veneration for the Westminster standards. For nearly thirty years the great reinforcements from New England and from men of the New England way of thinking had been ungrudgingly bestowed and heartily welcomed. But the great accessions which in the first four years of the fourth decade of this century had increased the roll of the communicants of the Presbyterian Church by more than fifty per cent. had come in undue proportion from the New Englandized regions of western New York and Ohio. It was inevitable that the jealousy of hereditary Presbyterians, “whose were the fathers,” should be aroused by the perfectly reasonable fear lest the traditional ways of the church which they felt to be in a peculiar sense their church might be affected by so large an element from without.
The grounds of explicit complaint against the party called “New School” were principally twofold—doctrine and organization.
In the Presbyterian Church at this time were three pretty distinct types of theological thought. First, there was the unmitigated Scotch Calvinism; secondly, there was the modification of this system, which became naturalized in the church after the Great Awakening, when Jonathan Dickinson and Jonathan Edwards, from neighbor towns in Massachusetts, came to be looked upon as the great Presbyterian theologians; thirdly, there was the “consistent Calvinism,” that had been still further evolved by the patient labor of students in direct succession from Edwards, and that was known under the name of “Hopkinsianism.” Just now the latest and not the least eminent in this school, Dr. Nathaniel W. Taylor, of New Haven, was enunciating to large and enthusiastic classes in Yale Divinity School new definitions and forms of statement giving rise to much earnest debate. The alarm of those to whom the very phrase “improvement in theology” was an abomination expressed itself in futile indictments for heresy brought against some of the most eminently godly and useful ministers in all the church. Lyman Beecher, of Lane Seminary, Edward Beecher, J. M. Sturtevant, and William Kirby, of Illinois College, and George Duffield, of the presbytery of Carlisle, Pa., were annoyed by impeachments for heresy, which all failed before reaching the court of last resort. But repeated and persistent prosecutions of Albert Barnes, of Philadelphia, were destined to more conspicuous failure, by reason of their coming up year after year before the General Assembly, and also by reason of the position of the accused, as pastor of the mother church of the denomination, the First Church of Philadelphia, which was the customary meeting-place of the Assembly; withal by reason of the character of the accused, the honor and love in which he was held for his faithful and useful work as pastor, his world-wide fame as a devoted and believing student of the Scriptures, and the Christlike gentleness and meekness with which he endured the harassing of church trials continuing through a period of seven years, and compelling him, under an irregular and illegal sentence of the synod, to sit silent in his church for the space of a year, as one suspended from the ministry.
The earliest leaders in national organization for the propagation of Christianity at home and abroad were the Congregationalists of New England and men like-minded with them. But the societies thus originated were organized on broad and catholic principles, and invited the coöeration of all Christians. They naturally became the organs of much of the active beneficence of Presbyterian congregations, and the Presbyterian clergy and laity were largely represented in the direction of them. They were recognized and commended by the representative bodies of the Presbyterian Church. As a point of high-church theory it was held by the rigidly Presbyterian party that the work of the gospel in all its departments and in all lands is the proper function of “the church as such”—meaning practically that each sect ought to have its separate propaganda. There was logical strength in this position as reached from their premisses, and there were arguments of practical convenience to be urged in favor of it. But the demand to sunder at once the bonds of fellowship which united Christians of different names in the beneficent work of the great national societies was not acceptable even to the whole of the Old-School party. To the New Englanders it was intolerable.
There were other and less important grounds of difference that were discussed between the parties. And in the background, behind them all, was the slavery question. It seems to have been willingly kept in the background by the leaders of debate on both sides; but it was there. The New-School synods and presbyteries of the North were firm in their adherence to the antislavery principles of the church. On the other hand, the Old-School party relied, in the coup d’église that was in preparation, on the support of “an almost solid South.”195195 Johnson, “The Southern Presbyterians,” p. 359.
It was an unpardonable offence of the New-School party that it had grown to such formidable strength, intellectually, spiritually, and numerically. The probability that the church might, with the continued growth and influence of this party, become Americanized and so lose the purity of its thoroughgoing Scotch traditions was very real, and to some minds very dreadful. To these the very ark of God seemed in danger. Arraignments for heresy in presbytery and synod resulted in failure; and when these and other cases involving questions of orthodoxy or of the policy of the church were brought into the supreme judicature of the church, the solemn but unmistakable fact disclosed itself that even the General Assembly could not be relied on for the support of measures introduced by the Old-School leaders. In fact, every Assembly from 1831 to 1836, with a single exception, had shown a clear New-School majority. The foundations were destroyed, and what should the righteous do?
History was about to repeat itself with unwonted preciseness of detail. On the gathering of the Assembly of 1837 a careful count of noses revealed what had been known only once before in seven years, and what might never be again—a clear Old-School majority in the house. To the pious mind the neglecting of such an opportunity would have been to tempt Providence. Without notice, without complaint or charges or specifications, without opportunity of defense, 4 synods, including 533 churches and more than 100,000 communicants, were excommunicated by a majority vote. The victory of pure doctrine and strict church order, though perhaps not exactly glorious, was triumphant and irreversible. There was no more danger to the church from a possible New-School majority.
When the four exscinded synods, three in western New York and one in Ohio, together with a great following of sympathizing congregations in all parts of the country, came together to reconstruct their shattered polity, they were found to number about four ninths of the late Presbyterian Church. For thirty years the American church was to present to Christendom the strange spectacle of two great ecclesiastical bodies claiming identically the same name, holding the same doctrinal standards, observing the same ritual and governed by the same discipline, and occupying the same great territory, and yet completely dissevered from each other and at times in relations of sharp mutual antagonism.196196 For the close historical parallel to the exscinding acts of 1837 see page 167, above. A later parallel, it is claimed, is found in the “virtually exscinding act” of the General Assembly of 1861, which was the occasion of the secession of the Southern Presbyterians. The historian of the Southern Presbyterians, who remarks with entire complacency that the “victory” of 1837 was won “only by virtue of an almost solid South,” seems quite unconscious that this kind of victory could have any force as a precedent or as an estoppel (Johnson, “The Southern Presbyterians,” pp. 335, 359). But it is natural, no doubt, that exscinding acts should look different when examined from the muzzle instead of from the breech.
The theological debate which had split the Presbyterian Church from end to end was quite as earnest and copious in New England. But owing to the freer habit of theological inquiry and the looser texture of organization among the Congregationalist churches, it made no organic schism beyond the setting up of a new theological seminary in Connecticut to offset what were deemed the “dangerous tendencies” of the New Haven theology. After a few years the party lines had faded out and the two seminaries were good neighbors.
The unlikeliest place in all American Christendom for a partisan controversy and a schism would have seemed to be the Unitarian denomination in and about Boston. Beginning with the refusal not only of any imposed standard of belief, but of any statement of common opinions, and with unlimited freedom of opinion in every direction, unless, perhaps, in the direction of orthodoxy, it was not easy to see how a splitting wedge could be started in it. But the infection of the time was not to be resisted. Even Unitarianism must have its heresies and heresiarchs to deal with. No sooner did the pressure of outside attack abate than antagonisms began pretty sharply to declare themselves. In 1832 Mr. Ralph Waldo Emerson, pastor of the Second Church in Boston, proposed to the church to abandon or radically change the observance of the Lord’s Supper. When the church demurred at this extraordinary demand he resigned his office, firing off an elaborate argument against the usage of the church by way of a parting salute. Without any formal demission of the ministry, he retired to his literary seclusion at Concord, from which he brought forth in books and lectures the oracular utterances which caught more and more the ear of a wide public, and in which, in casual-seeming parentheses and obiter dicta, Christianity and all practical religion were condemned by sly innuendo and half-respectful allusion by which he might “without sneering teach the rest to sneer.” In 1838 he was still so far recognized in the ministry as to be invited to address the graduating class of the Harvard Divinity School. The blank pantheism which he then enunciated called forth from Professor Henry Ware, Jr., a sermon in the college chapel on the personality of God, which he sent with a friendly note to Mr. Emerson. The gay and Skimpolesque reply of the sage is an illustration of that flippancy with which he chose to toy in a literary way with momentous questions, and which was so exasperating to the earnest men of positive religious convictions with whom he had been associated in the Christian ministry.
“It strikes me very oddly that good and wise men at Cambridge should think of raising me into an object of criticism. I have always been, from my incapacity of methodical writing, ‘a chartered libertine,’ free to worship and free to rail, lucky when I could make myself understood, but never esteemed near enough to the institutions and mind of society to deserve the notice of masters of literature and religion. . . . I could not possibly give you one of the ‘arguments’ you so cruelly hint at on which any doctrine of mine stands, for I do not know what arguments mean in reference to any expression of thought. I delight in telling what I think, but if you ask me how I dare say so, or why it is so, I am the most helpless of mortal men. I do not even see that either of these questions admits of an answer. So that in the present droll posture of my affairs, when I see myself suddenly raised into the importance of a heretic, I am very uneasy when I advert to the supposed duties of such a personage who is to make good his thesis against all comers. I certainly shall do no such thing.”
The issue was joined and the controversy began. Professor Andrews Norton in a pamphlet denounced “the latest form of infidelity,” and the Rev. George Ripley replied in a volume, to which Professor Norton issued a rejoinder. But there was not substance enough of religious dogma and sentiment in the transcendentalist philosophers to give them any permanent standing in the church. They went into various walks of secular literature, and have powerfully influenced the course of opinions; but they came to be no longer recognizable as a religious or theological party.
Among the minor combatants in the conflict between the Unitarians and the pantheists was a young man whose name was destined to become conspicuous, not within the Unitarian fellowship, but on the outskirts of it. Theodore Parker was a man of a different type from the men about him of either party. The son of a mechanic, he fought his way through difficulties to a liberal education, and was thirty years old before his very great abilities attracted general attention. A greedy gormandizer of books in many languages, he had little of the dainty scholarship so much prized at the neighboring university. But the results of his vast reading were stored in a quick and tenacious memory as ready rhetorical material wherewith to convince or astonish. Paradox was a passion with him, that was stimulated by complaints, and even by deprecations, to the point of irreverence. He liked to “make people’s flesh crawl.” Even in his advocacy of social and public reforms, which was strenuous and sincere, he delighted so to urge his cause as to inflame prejudice and opposition against it. With this temper it is not strange that when he came to enunciate his departure from some of the accepted tenets of his brethren, who were habitually reverent in their discipleship toward Jesus Christ, he should do this in a way to offend and shock. The immediate reaction of the Unitarian clergy from the statements of his sermon, in 1841, on “The Transient and the Permanent in Christianity,” in which the supernatural was boldly discarded from his belief, was so general and so earnest as to give occasion to Channing’s exclamation, “Now we have a Unitarian orthodoxy!” Channing did not live to see the characteristic tenets of the heresiarch to whom he hesitated to give the name of Christian not only widely accepted in the Unitarian churches, but some of them freely discussed as open questions among some orthodox scholars.
Two very great events in this period of schism may be dispatched with a brevity out of all proportion to their importance, on account of the simplicity of motive and action by which they are characterized.
In the year 1844 the slavery agitation in the Methodist Episcopal Church culminated, not in the rupture of the church, but in the well-considered, deliberate division of it between North and South. The history of the slavery question among the Methodists was a typical one. From the beginning the Methodist Society had been committed by its founder and his early successors to the strictest (not the strongest) position on this question. Not only was the system of slavery denounced as iniquitous, but the attempt was made to enforce the rigid rule that persons involved under this system in the relation of master to slave should be excluded from the ministry, if not from the communion. But the enforcement of this rule was found to be not only difficult, but wrong, and difficult simply because it was wrong. Then followed that illogical confusion of ideas studiously fostered by zealots at either extreme: If the slave-holder may be in some circumstances a faithful Christian disciple, fulfilling in righteousness and love a Christian duty, then slavery is right; if slavery is wrong, then every slave-holder is a manstealer, and should be excommunicated as such without asking any further questions. Two statements more palpably illogical were never put forth for the darkening of counsel. But each extreme was eager to sustain the unreason of the opposite extreme as the only alternative of its own unreason, and so, what with contrary gusts from North and South, they fell into a place where two seas met and ran the ship aground. The attempts made from 1836 to 1840, by stretching to the utmost the authority of the General Conference and the bishops, for the suppression of “modern abolitionism” in the church (without saying what they meant by the phrase) had their natural effect: the antislavery sentiment in the church organized and uttered itself more vigorously and more extravagantly than ever on the basis, “All slave-holding is sin; no fellowship with slave-holders.” In 1843 an antislavery secession took place, which drew after it a following of six thousand, increased in a few months to fifteen thousand. The paradoxical result of this movement is not without many parallels in church history: After the drawing off of fifteen thousand of the most zealous antislavery men in the church, the antislavery party in the church was vastly stronger, even in numbers, than it had been before. The General Conference of 1836 had pronounced itself, without a dissenting vote, to be “decidedly opposed to modern abolitionism.” The General Conference of 1844, on the first test vote on the question of excluding from the ministry .one who had become a slave-holder through marriage, revealed a majority of one hundred and seventeen to fifty-six in favor of the most rigorous antislavery discipline. The graver question upon the case of Bishop Andrew, who was in the like condemnation, could not be decided otherwise. The form of the Conference’s action in this case was studiously inoffensive. It imputed no wrong and proposed no censure, but, simply on the ground that the circumstances would embarrass him in the exercise of his office, declared it as “the sense of this General Conference that he desist from the exercise of this office so long as this impediment remains.” The issue could not have been simpler and clearer. The Conference was warned that the passage of the resolution would be followed by the secession of the South. The debate was long, earnest, and tender. At the end of it the resolution was passed, one hundred and eleven to sixty-nine. At once notice was given of the intended secession. Commissioners were appointed from both parties to adjust the conditions of it, and in the next year (1845) was organized the “Methodist Episcopal Church, South.”
Under the fierce tyranny then dominant at the South the southern Baptists might not fall behind their Methodist neighbors in zeal for slavery. This time it was the South that forced the issue. The Alabama Baptist Convention, without waiting for a concrete case, demanded of the national missionary boards “the distinct, explicit avowal that slave-holders are eligible and entitled equally with non-slave-holders to all the privileges and immunities of their several unions.” The answer of the Foreign Mission Board was perfectly kind, but, on the main point, perfectly unequivocal: “We can never be a party to any arrangement which would imply approbation of slavery.” The result had been foreseen. The great denomination was divided between North and South. The Southern Baptist Convention was organized in May, 1845, and began its home and foreign missionary work without delay.
This dark chapter of our story is not without its brighter aspects. (1) Amid the inevitable asperities attendant on such debate and division there were many and beautiful manifestations of brotherly love between the separated parties. (2) These strifes fell out to the furtherance of the gospel. Emulations, indeed, are not among the works of the Spirit. In the strenuous labors of the two divided denominations, greatly exceeding what had gone before, it is plain that sometimes Christ was preached of envy and strife. Nevertheless Christ was preached, with great and salutary results; and therein do we rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.
Two important orders in the American church, which for a time had almost faded out from our field of vision, come back, from about this epoch of debate and division, into continually growing conspicuousness and strength. Neither of them was implicated in that great debate involving the fundamental principles of the kingdom of heaven,—the principles of righteousness and love to men,—by which other parts of the church had been agitated and sometimes divided. Whether to their discredit or to their honor, it is a part of history that neither the Protestant Episcopal Church nor the Roman Catholic Church took any important part, either corporately or through its representative men, in the agonizing struggle of the American church to maintain justice and humanity in public law and policy. But standing thus aloof from the great ethical questions that agitated the conscience of the nation, they were both of them disturbed by controversies internal or external, which demand mention at least in this chapter.
The beginning of the resuscitation of the Protestant Episcopal Church from the dead-and-alive condition in which it had so long been languishing is dated from the year 1811.197197 Tiffany, chap. xv. This year was marked by the accession to the episcopate of two eminent men, representing two strongly divergent parties in that church—Bishop Griswold, of Massachusetts, Evangelical, and Bishop Hobart, of New York, High-churchman. A quorum of three bishops having been gotten together, not without great difficulty, the two were consecrated in Trinity Church, New York, May 29, 1811.
The time was opportune and the conjuncture of circumstances singularly favorable. The stigma of Toryism, which had marked the church from long before the War of Independence, was now more than erased. In New England the Episcopal Church was of necessity committed to that political party which favored the abolition of the privileges of the standing order; and this was the anti-English party, which, under the lead of Jefferson, was fast forcing the country into war with England. The Episcopalians were now in a position to retort the charge of disloyalty under which they had not unjustly suffered. At the same time their church lost nothing of the social prestige incidental to its relation to the established Church of England. Politicians of the Democratic party, including some men of well-deserved credit and influence, naturally attached themselves to a religious party having many points of congeniality.198198 The intense antagonism of the New England Congregationalists to Jefferson and his party as representing French infidelity and Jacobinism admits of many striking illustrations. The sermon of Nathanael Emmons on “Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin” is characterized by Professor Park as “a curiosity in politico-homiletical literature.” At this distance it is not difficult to see that the course of this clergy was far more honorable to its boldness and independence than to its discretion and sense of fitness. Both its virtues and its faults had a tendency to strengthen an opposing party.
In another sense, also, the time was opportune for an advance of the Episcopal Church. In the person of Bishop Hobart it had now a bold, energetic, and able representative of principles hitherto not much in favor in America —the thoroughgoing High-church principles of Archbishop Laud. Before this time the Episcopal Church had had very little to contribute by way of enriching the diversity of the American sects. It was simply the feeblest of the communions bearing the common family traits of the Great Awakening, with the not unimportant differentia of its settled ritual of worship and its traditions of order and decorum. But when Bishop Hobart put the trumpet to his lips and prepared himself to sound, the public heard a very different note, and no uncertain one. The church (meaning his own fragment of the church) the one channel of saving grace; the vehicles of that grace, the sacraments, valid only when ministered by a priesthood with the right pedigree of ordination; submission to the constituted authorities of the church absolutely unlimited, except by clear divine requirements; abstinence from prayer-meetings; firm opposition to revivals of religion; refusal of all coöeration with Christians outside of his own sect in endeavors for the general advancement of religion—such were some of the principles and duties inculcated by this bishop of the new era as of binding force.199199 Hobart’s sermon at the consecration of Right Rev. H. U. Onderdonk, Philadelphia, 1827. The courage of this attitude was splendid and captivating. It requires, even at the present time, not a little force of conviction to sustain one in publicly enunciating such views; but at the time of the accession of Hobart, when the Episcopal Church was just beginning to lift up its head out of the dust of despair, it needed the heroism of a martyr. It was not only the vast multitude of American Christians outside of the Episcopal Church, comprising almost all the learning, the evangelistic zeal, and the charitable activity and self-denial of the American church of that time, that heard these unwonted pretensions with indignation or with ridicule; in the Episcopal Church itself they were disclaimed, scouted, and denounced with (if possible) greater indignation still. But the new party had elements of growth for which its adversaries did not sufficiently reckon. The experience of other orders in the church confirms this principle: that steady persistence and iteration in assuring any body of believers that they are in some special sense the favorites of Heaven, and in assuring any body of clergy that they are endued from on high with some special and exceptional powers, will by and by make an impression on the mind. The flattering assurance may be coyly waived aside; it may even be indignantly repelled; but in the long run there will be a growing number of the brethren who become convinced that there is something in it. It was in harmony with human nature that the party of high pretensions to distinguished privileges for the church and prerogatives for the “priesthood” should in a few years become a formidable contestant for the control of the denomination. The controversy between the two parties rose to its height of exacerbation during the prevalence of that strange epidemic of controversy which ran simultaneously through so many of the great religious organizations of the country at once. No denomination had it in a more malignant form than the Episcopalians. The war of pamphlets and newspapers was fiercely waged, and the election of bishops sometimes became a bitter party contest, with the unpleasant incidents of such competitions. In the midst of the controversy at home the publication of the Oxford Tracts added new asperity to it. A distressing episode of the controversy was the arraignment of no less than four of the twenty bishops on charges affecting their personal character. In the morbid condition of the body ecclesiastic every such hurt festered. The highest febrile temperature was reached when, at an ordination in 1843, two of the leading presbyters in the diocese of New York rose in their places, and, reading each one his solemn protest against the ordaining of one of the candidates on the ground of his Romanizing opinions, left the church.
The result of the long conflict was not immediately apparent. It was not only that “high” opinions, even the highest of the Tractarian school, were to be tolerated within the church, but that the High-church party was to be the dominant party. The Episcopal Church was to stand before the public as representing, not that which it held in common with the other churches of the country, but that which was most distinctive. From this time forth the “Evangelical” party continued relatively to decline, down to the time, thirty years later, when it was represented in the inconsiderable secession of the “Reformed Episcopal Church.” The combination of circumstances and influences by which this party supremacy was brought about is an interesting study, for which, however, there is no room in this brief compendium of history.
A more important fact is this: that in spite of these agitating internal strifes, and even by reason of them, the growth of the denomination was wonderfully rapid and strong. No fact in the external history of the American church at this period is more imposing than this growth of the Episcopal Church from nothing to a really commanding stature. It is easy to enumerate minor influences tending to this result, some of which are not of high spiritual dignity; but these must not be overestimated. The nature of this growth, as well as the numerical amount of it, requires to be considered. This strongly distinguished order in the American church has been aggrandized, not, to any great degree, by immigration, nor by conquest from the ranks of the irreligious, but by a continual stream of accessions both to its laity and to its clergy from other sects of the church. These accessions have of course been variable in quality, but they have included many such as no denomination could afford to lose, and such as any would be proud to receive. Without judging of individual cases, it is natural and reasonable to explain so considerable a current setting so steadily for two generations toward the Episcopal Church as being attracted by the distinctive characteristics of that church. Foremost among these we may reckon the study of the dignity and beauty of public worship, and the tradition and use of forms of devotion of singular excellence and value. A tendency to revert to the ancient Calvinist doctrine of the sacraments has prepossessed some in favor of that sect in which the old Calvinism is still cherished. Some have rejoiced to find a door of access to the communion of the church not beset with revivalist exactions of examination and scrutiny of the sacred interior experiences of the soul. Some have reacted from an excessive or inquisitive or arbitrary church discipline, toward a default of discipline. Some, worthily weary of sectarian division and of the “evangelical” doctrine that schism is the normal condition of the church of Christ, have found real comfort in taking refuge in a sect in which, closing their eyes, they can say, “There are no schisms in the church; the church is one and undivided, and we are it.” These and other like considerations, mingled in varying proportions, have been honorable motives impelling toward the Episcopal denomination; and few that have felt the force of them have felt constrained stubbornly to resist the gentle assurances offered by the “apostolic succession” theory of a superior authority and prerogative with which they had become invested. The numerous accessions to the Episcopal Church from other communions have, of course, been in large part reinforcements to the already dominant party.
In the Roman Catholic Church of the United States, during this stormy period, there was by no means a perfect calm. The ineradicable feeling of the American citizen—however recent his naturalization—that he has a right to do what he will with his own, had kept asserting itself in that plausible but untenable claim of the laity to manage the church property acquired by their own contributions, which is known to Catholic writers as “trusteeism.” Through the whole breadth of the country, from Buffalo to New Orleans, sharp conflicts over this question between clergy and laity had continued to vex the peace of the church, and the victory of the clergy had not been unvarying and complete. When, in 1837, Bishop John Hughes took the reins of spiritual power in New York, he resolved to try conclusions with the trustees who attempted to overrule his authority in his own cathedral. Sharply threatening to put the church under interdict, if necessary, he brought the recalcitrants to terms at last by a less formidable process. He appealed to the congregation to withhold all further contributions from the trustees. The appeal, for conscience’ sake, to refrain from giving has always a double hope of success. And the bishop succeeded in ousting the trustees, at the serious risk of teaching the people a trick which has since been found equally effective when applied on the opposite side of a dispute between clergyman and congregation. In Philadelphia the long struggle was not ended without the actual interdicting of the cathedral of St. Mary’s, April, 1831. In Buffalo, so late as 1847, even this extreme measure, applied to the largest congregation in the newly erected diocese, did not at once enforce submission.
The conflict with trusteeism was only one out of many conflicts which gave abundant exercise to the administrative abilities of the American bishops. The mutual jealousies of the various nationalities and races among the laity, and of the various sects of the regular clergy, menaced, and have not wholly ceased to menace, the harmony of the church, if not its unity.
One disturbing element by which the Roman Catholic Church in some European countries has been sorely vexed makes no considerable figure in the corresponding history in America. There has never been here any “Liberal Catholic” party. The fact stands in analogy with many like facts. Visitors to America from the established churches of England or Scotland or Germany have often been surprised to find the temper of the old-country church so much broader and less rigid than that of the daughter church in the new and free republic. The reason is less recondite than might be supposed. In the old countries there are retained in connection with the state-church, by constraint of law or of powerful social or family influences, many whose adhesion to its distinctive tenets and rules is slight and superficial. It is out of such material that the liberal church party grows. In the migration it is not that the liberal churchman becomes more strict, but that, being released from outside pressure, he becomes less of a churchman. He easily draws off from his hereditary communion and joins himself to some other, or to none at all. This process of evaporation leaves behind it a strong residuum in which all characteristic elements are held as in a saturated solution.
A further security of the American Catholic Church against the growth of any “Liberal Catholic” party like those of continental Europe is the absolutist organization of the hierarchy under the personal government of the pope. In these last few centuries great progress has been made by the Roman see in extinguishing the ancient traditions of local or national independence in the election of bishops. Nevertheless in Catholic Europe important relics of this independence give an effective check to the absolute power of Rome. In America no trace of this historic independence has ever existed. The power of appointing and removing bishops is held absolutely and exclusively by the pope and exercised through the Congregation of the Propaganda. The power of ordaining and assigning priests is held by the bishop, who also holds or controls the title to the church property in his diocese. The security against partisan division within the church is as complete as it can be made without gravely increasing the risks of alienating additional multitudes from the fellowship of the church.200200 For a fuller account of the dissensions in the Catholic Church, consult, by index, Bishop O’Gorman’s “History.” On the modern organization of the episcopate in complete dependence on the Holy See, consult the learned article on “Episcopal Elections,” by Dr. Peries, of the Catholic University at Washington, in the “American Catholic Quarterly Review” for January, 1896; also the remarks of Archbishop Kenrick, of St. Louis, in his “Concio in Concilio Vaticano Habenda at non Habita,” in “An Inside View of the Vatican Council,” by L. W. Bacon, pp. 61, 121.
During the whole of this dreary decade there were “fightings
without” as well as within for the Catholic Church in the United States. Its great
and sudden growth solely by immigration had made it distinctively a church of foreigners,
and chiefly of Irishmen. The conditions were favorable for the development of a
race prejudice aggravated by a religious antipathy. It was a good time for the impostor,
the fanatic, and the demagogue to get in their work. In Boston, in 1834, the report
that a woman was detained against her will in the Ursuline convent at Charlestown,
near Boston, led to the burning of the building by a drunken mob. The Titus Oates
of the American no-popery panic, in 1836, was an infamous woman named Maria Monk,
whose monstrous stories of secret horrors perpetrated in a convent in Montreal,
in which she claimed
to have lived as a nun, were published by a respectable house and had immense currency.
A New York pastor of good standing, Dr. Brownlee, made himself sponsor
for her character and her stories; and when these had been thoroughly exposed, by
Protestant ministers and laymen, for the shameless frauds that they were, there
were plenty of zealots to sustain her still. A “Protestant Society” was organized
in New York, and solicited the contributions of the benevolent and pious to promote
the dissemination of raw-head-and-bloody-bones literature on the horrors of popery.
The enterprise met with reprobation from sober-minded Protestants, but it was not
without its influence for mischief. The presence of a great foreign vote, easily
manipulated and cast in block, was proving a copious source of political corruption.
Large concessions of privilege or of public property to Catholic institutions were
reasonably suspected to have been made in consideration of clerical services in
partisan politics.201201 A satirical view of these concessions, in the vast dimensions
which they had reached twenty-five years later in the city and county of New York,
was published in two articles, “Our Established Church,” and “The Unestablished
Church,” in “Putnam’s Magazine” for July and December, 1869. The articles
were reissued in a pamphlet, “with an explanatory and exculpatory preface, and
sundry notices of the contemporary press.” The conditions provoked, we might say necessitated, a political
reform movement, which took the name and character of “Native American.” In Philadelphia,
a city notorious at that time for misgovernment and turbulence, an orderly “American” meeting was attacked and broken up by
an Irish mob. One act of violence led to
another, the excitement increasing from day to day; deadly shots were exchanged
in the streets, houses from which balls had been fired into the crowd were set in
flames, which spread to other houses, churches were burned, and the whole city dominated
by mobs that were finally suppressed by the State militia. It was an appropriate climax
to the ten years of ecclesiastical and social turmoil.202202 A studiously careful account of the Philadelphia riots of 1844
is given in the “New Englander,” vol. ii. 470, 624. (1844), pp. 624.
This account of the schisms of the period is of course not complete. The American Missionary Association, since distinguished for successful labors chiefly among the freedmen, grew out of dissatisfaction felt by men of advanced antislavery views with the position of the “American Board” and the American Home Missionary Society on the slavery question. The organization of it was matured in 1846. A very fruitful schism in its results was that which, in 1835, planted a cutting from Lane Seminary at Cincinnati, in the virgin soil at Oberlin, Ohio. The beginning thus made with a class in theology has grown into a noble and widely beneficent institution, the influence of which has extended to the ends of the land and of the world.
The division of the Society of Friends into the two societies known as Hicksite and Orthodox is of earlier date—1827-28.
No attempt is made in this volume to chronicle the interminable splittings and reunitings of the Presbyterian sects of Scottish extraction. A curious diagram, on page 146 of volume xi. of the present series, illustrates the sort of task which such a chronicle involves.
An illustration of the way in which the extreme defenders of slavery and the extreme abolitionists sustained each other in illogical statements (see above, pp. 301, 302) is found in Dr. Thornwell’s claim (identical with Mr. Garrison’s) that if slavery is wrong, then all slave-holders ought to be excommunicated (vol. vi., p. 157, note). Dr. Thornwell may not have been the “mental and moral giant” that he appears to his admirers (see Professor Johnson in vol. xi., p. 355), but he was an intelligent and able man, quite too clear-headed to be imposed upon by a palpable “ambiguous middle,” except for his excitement in the heat of a desperate controversy with the moral sense of all Christendom.
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