Monday, February 24, 2014

High Churchmen as Evangelists

The fastest growing diocese in first forty years of the 19th century was that of New York. There was a combination of factors in play. Benjamin Moore began the practice of the bishops going upstate to visit the parishes along the Hudson Valley, and as the population was following the river routes northwards, new congregations began to be formed to supplement those from colonial times. A second factor was 'cold hard cash' - Trinity Wall Street had plenty of it, and could afford to make grants to new churches as well as pay wages to the Bishop, as rector of the parish, his assistants, and support a number of Chapels in New York City. The remaining factor was a series of remarkable men who held the post of Bishop of New York. Provoost may have been unorthodox, but he was well connected and not prepared to see the Church decline. Moore, his successor as Bishop and Rector of Trinity, began to cautious push the church forward, no doubt encouraged by his able assistant John Henry Hobart.

Hobart was a remarkable figure. His portrait tends to show him as a youngish, slightly rotund man, with spectacles - he always puts me a little in mind of Schubert - yet there was no doubt as to his sheer ability. He had studied theology under William White, where he learned the dry orthodoxy of the mid-eighteenth century, and then the Cutler, who introduced him to High Church Principles. Now we have to remember that this is the old High Churchmanship, with its strong emphasis on the efficiency of the two Dominical Sacraments, its enthusiasm for Episcopal governance of the Church, and its love of the Book of Common Prayer. However, Hobart was not a conventional High Churchman. For a start, High Churchmanship had a reputation for being three parts starch, one part morals, and one part theology. Hobart was not like that. If anything, he shared the activism of the early Episcopal Evangelicals, but unlike them he chose not to participate in non-denominational efforts, but created various societies for Episcopalians - such as "the Bible and Prayer Book Society" because he wished to use them to advance the cause of Anglicanism. He was also a stirring preacher, turning his affliction - he was myopic - into an advantage, as finding it difficult to read a manuscript in the pulpit, he largely memorized his sermons, giving him a freer more spontaneous style of preaching. Yet for all the Evangelical form, there was a small but significant shift towards more 'churchly' uses. The word diocese begins to appear. Under Provoost, the diocese had always been styled 'The Protestant Episcopal Church in/of the State of New York. Hobart favoured churches which placed the altar at the east end, and had a separate chancel area for the Communion service, rather than making the Table an adjunct to the three decker pulpit. The pulpit was placed at the head of the nave, dominating that part of the church, and effectively dividing it into two room - one for the Office, the other for the Lord's Supper. He also systematized Episcopal visitation and confirmations so that the Bishop became a presence in the whole diocese, not just in the City of New York and the down state counties. This made his final attribute essential - he had a lot of energy, and although he alternated between feverish activity, and moods of depression where he retired to his country residence in New Jersey, he carried the heaviest work load of any Episcopal bishop, without assistance, for almost 20 years.

However, although 'the Hobart Effect' was considerable, it was aided by the presence of many able men in the diocese. Richard Channing Moore, an Evangelical, had built up a considerable ministry at St Stephen's which, until his departure to Virginia in 1814, was the hub of the Evangelical Movement in NY. Hobart was lucky in his assistant at Trinity - B. T. Onderdonk - a clever, plodding, fastidious man, who was more than able to hold the home front when the Bishop was upstate. The advent of General Seminary in 1817 also aided the diocese, though Hobart was a bit suspicious of it at first as it was not under his control, and it was becoming evident that a lot of the success of the diocese lay in its institutional strength, and the quality of the men that Hobart could attract into the ministry. Basically, through his ministry the Church in New York was energized, and as Episcopalians went up the Hudson, and along the Erie Canal they vowed to take the Church with them. They could be sure that when they did get upstate and organize their Grace Church or Trinity Church among the woods and hills of upstate New York, it would not be too long before a rotund man in glasses arrived to preach to encourage and to confirm their children.

Hobart's heavy workload eventually killed him. In the late spring of 1830, he headed upstate once again on another cycle of preaching, visiting, and confirming, which was to take him through the whole summer. Three months later, feeling low and feverish he tied up at a Rectory in Upstate New York in early September 1830. At first there were considerable hope for recovery, but as the condition of the worn out man declined, his friends prepared for the worst. Almost as an after thought, the rector celebrated Holy Communion for the dying man, who passed on 12th September 1830, just two days short of his 55th birthday.

As was so often the case in Hobart's later life, his assistant Benjamin Treadwell Onderdonk (1791-1861), stepped in to do what the Bishop could no longer do. He was elected to follow Hobart by the Convention of PEC in NY. B. T. Onderdonk was of Dutch descent, and his clergy said he could also be 'a bit Dutch' - stubborn, difficult, and inclined to waste too much time on trifles. However, the Diocesan Convention's choice was absolutely sound, as Onderdonk was committed to following his old chief's principles. He may have fussed about the size of the bread cubes for the Communion service, prescribed how much wine would be needed for each two dozen communicants. He may also depreciated the classical architecture of so many New York Churches and pressed the Gothic revival style on unwilling vestries, but he had the redeeming quality of being a plodder.

Now plodding is not usually considered a virtue, but when compared to his old boss Hobart, Onderdonk comes across as the consummate plodder. His fussiness was the down side of this painstaking personality - the vice of a man who did things well (not brilliantly) and thoroughly. Undeterred by his old chief's death through fever brought on by poor sanitation and overwork, Onderdonk followed the same routine as his predecessor spending the cold months in or close to New York City, then heading north each summer to visit the upstate parishes. In those days there was no New York Central railroad, never mind a Freeway or Turnpike to speed you on your way, you took to the riverboats, and worked your way upstream at a steady three or four knots calling at each town and village in turn. The river boats were also noted for their vice and gambling, but even though respectable men, especially the Protestant Episcopal bishop, may have preferred to avoid their pernicious influence, they were the only practical and economic way to travel upstate. When the river system ran out, then the Bishop had to take to the stage coaches, and jolt his way at so much a stage across country until he reached his destination. It was an exacting life, but one which B T Onderdonk sustained for some 15 years, no doubt reading some of the new 'Tract for the Times' out of Oxford, England, which his friends would have sent to him from time to time. Sadly, it was these Tracts that were to ignite the conflict that brought down Bishop Onderdonk. However, he was to have his moment of triumph first.

At the time of his consecration in 1830, the diocese of New York had around 130 clergy, 68 parishes, and probably a 110-120 missions. Unlike his three predecessors, Onderdonk was not Rector of Trinity Church, but although this somewhat lightened his load, the slack was soon taken up by the demands of the largest diocese in the Protestant Episcopal Church. By 1837, the plodder was shepherding 239 clergy in 232 parishes, which was a test of even his stamina. This made the division of either Episcopal authority, by the appointment of an assistant, or of jurisdiction by a division of the diocese essential. Onderdonk plodded his way through this, like he did everything else, smoothing the way in the diocesan convention; then making the necessary approaches to the House of Bishops and the General Convention. There was a lot of controversy, as the dioceses were then all co-terminus with the states they served, and this division was seen as crossing some sort of great organisational rubicon. In the end, the state was divided almost equally with both dioceses containing about one million people and 21,000 square miles of land. The new diocese contained 40 parishes, 50 missions, and not quite a hundred clergy, and Onderdonk had the pleasure of presiding over its first diocesan convention and of seeing the election of William Heathcoate DeLancey as its first bishop. He was probably less happy about the name "Western New York" - as a High Churchman he undoubtedly would have preferred to have the diocese named after one of its major cities. This small caveat aside, the division of the diocese of New York is a testament to Onderdonk's administrative ability, but unfortunately, it proved to be the calm before the storm.

Doubtless there had always been a little bit of grumbling among Evangelicals about Onderdonk's High Church views and - shall we call it - attention to detail, and I imagine everyone got a little 'bent out of shape' when the bishop was being a tadge difficult, but there was no major explosion until the Carey Case in 1843. Young Arthur Carey was a student at the General Seminary, who held what might be politely called 'advanced views.' With the aid of the Tracts he had travelled a long way along the road to Rome, and some of his professors had expressed concern about this. Onderdonk listened to the objections, but was determined to ordain him anyway. Instead of waving aside the opposition as Hobart would have done, he got drawn into the controversy, and this in turn stirred up further opposition. In the end it devolved into the first out-and-out faction fight in the diocese of New York and in the PECUSA as a whole, and it was to make Benjamin Onderdonk some very determined enemies.

Onderdonk was to have another year of relative peace, then rumours began to circulate of indecent conduct with a variety of women. Those long unaccompanied journeys had caught up with him in an unexpected way. The trouble was that Onderdonk was a 'touchy-feely' in an age when such familiarity could be regarded as a breach of social etiquette at best, and as a downright liberty at worst. In Onderdonk's case, it was viewed as conduct unbecoming of a clergyman, and seized upon by his enemies, resulting in a trial before the House of Bishops. The trial was a nasty tempered and rancorous affair which ended in a pretty much party line vote of 11-6 against the Bishop, who was accordingly suspended. Sadly, Bishop William Meade of Virginia, leader of the Evangelical opposition to Onderdonk, having tasted blood, decided to try for the double and take down Henry U. Onderdonk, Benjamin T's elder brother, and the second Bishop of Pennsylvania. The elder Onderdonk had been prescribed laudanum to alleviate chronic pain, but as laudanum is nothing but opium dissolved in brandy, Benjamin T's elder brother soon found himself faced with allegations of intemperance from certain Evangelicals in the diocese. Again the trial was a nasty display of party feeling, ending with a down the line vote convicting the Bishop leading to his serving an 11 year suspension from the exercise of his ministry. No-one won any advantage from these actions. The Evangelicals garnered a reputation for intolerance and partisanship which weakened them greatly later in the century. The dioceses of New York and Pennsylvania were majorly disrupted for a decade, and the High Churchmen found they had to circle the wagons in order to survive, leading to a period when High and Low were often at loggerheads with one another.

However, we still need to answer the question, why were these High Churchmen successful as Evangelists?

In the first instance, emigration into New York was still largely a British affair in the 1820s and 1830s. This meant that many of the new Americans were at least nominally members of the Church of England. However, that was only a slight 'leg-up' - far more determinative was the fact that these High Church preached the Gospel of redemption through Cross and Passion of Jesus Christ, and they also gave to the men and women that heard them the means of grace. They may have laid their emphasis on the sacraments, and virtues not far removed from the old Benedictine principles of poverty, stability and conversion of life, but in doing so they taught people how to be holy. In an age when folks were looking for salvation this thoroughness and lack of individualism could be a great strength for those looking for an identity in the New World. A further factor was cultural. Romanticism as a literary movement, with its appeal to mediaevalism, was at its height, and the Protestant Episcopal Church with its fine buildings, and solemn (rather than elaborate) ceremonial, and history fitted in perfectly with the cultural priorities of the time, just as in a sense we should be able to fit in with the counter-cultural priorities today. In short, the Protestant Episcopal Church was every bit as "romantic" as Roman Catholicism, but without its disadvantages. The time was ripe for the Church, and the men were there who God had ordained for the task!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Revisionists on Both Sides

One of the things that has become increasingly evident to me during my almost 20 years of ministry in the Continuing Church is that not all the Revisionists are liberal Episcopalians. One of the reasons why the Continuing Anglican Movement has preformed relatively weakly is that at least two of the major jurisdictions, the Anglican Catholic Church and the Traditional Anglican Communion have had a significant element within them who wished to reform, and not just continue Episcopalianism. They are hostile to the very notion of a broad Scriptural orthodoxy, under the traditional threefold male ministry, which would be inherently part of a simple continuation of the old PECUSA, and as a result they have tended to try and narrow the boundaries.

One major motivation behind this has been the desire to prevent Anglo-Catholics ever being a 'persecuted minority' within the Church. Now whilst I would freely admit that Anglo-Catholics occasionally got the dirty end of the stick, by-and-large they gave as good as they got. Certainly, much of the run-up to the formation of the Reformed Episcopal Church was set against the background of activist High Church and Anglo-Catholic opposition to what they perceived as Evangelical irregularities, and they were not shy about using the ecclesiastical courts to enforce their point of view. Conversely, the Evangelicals had not been too "nice" about their methodology when they had gone after Henry Onderdonk, Bishop of Pennsylvania, and Benjamin Onderdonk, Bishop of New York in the 1840s. The charge against Henry of Philadelphia, one of intoxication, was particularly difficult to prove, especially as he had been prescribed laudanum following a painful, and his eventual conviction owed more to party-feeling and a well-orchestrated smear campaign, than the actual merit of the allegation. There seems to have been a little more substance to the allegations of improper conduct against his brother, but even then it seems that the fact that he was a High Churchmen, sympathetic to the Oxford Movement, seems to have been the actual crime. The sentences imposed on both men seem excessive. Henry U. was suspended for 11 years, and his brother until his death in 1861. Both the diocese of Pennsylvania, and that of New York suffered a serious setback because of the limbo into which the suspension of their respective bishops placed them.

Unfortunately, the party spirit that the trials of H.U. and B.T. Onderdonk, or for that matter the Rev. Mr Cheney in 1868, demonstrated has never wholly departed from the Anglican Tradition, and we can all point occasions when party spirit has got the better of common sense. Episcopal elections seem to be one of the most frequent manifestations of this tendency, and I do not think any of us can honestly say that it strengthens the Church - unless, of course, we believe that the survival of the Church depends on our party surviving.

The Rev. Sydney Smith (1773-1845) famously defined orthodoxy as "one's own doxy" and heterodoxy as "another man's doxy" - a verdict which earned him no friends among the more theologically rigid. However, there are times when one is tempted to take Prebendary Smith's words as having more than a grain of truth to them. Clergymen seem to be very good at this type of argument, even when the preponderance of the evidence is against them. I never cease to be amazed by the number of Anglican priests I encounter who hate the Reformation, reject the Thirty-nine Articles and will fight to the death to retain the 1928 BCP only if they never have to use it, not do I ever cease to be amazed by those who swear by the Articles, but have little use for the BCP or clerical dress. Neither side seems to appreciate the balance inherent in the Anglican position.

I took the time not so long ago to listen to the tape recording made in 1977 of the proceedings of the Congress of Concerned Churchmen held in St Louis in September 1977. Most of recording were as boring as only Church meetings are apt to be. There were a lot of expressions of hope about the new Anglican Church, and a great deal of distaste expressed for the direction the Episcopal Church had been going in since 1964, but there was no call for a complete overhaul of what it means to be Anglican. If anything, most of the speaker wanted the Affirmation of St Louis to serve as a minor corrective to the ambiguities that had crept into PECUSA in the years since 1945 by reiterating the Church's commitment to the Scriptures, the Fathers, the Early Councils, and the traditional understanding of Holy Orders. However, there was an opening in the Affirmation of St Louis for a form of Orthodox revisionism to take place, mainly through its provisions for alternative liturgies, and a thorough revision of the Constitution and Canons.

There is an old adage about 'give them an inch, and they'll take a mile' and the Revisionist element among the Continuers took their opportunity to do just that. Unfortunately, in doing so they fostered strife and division. The Constitution and Canons that emerged from the revision process proved unacceptable to three dioceses of the new Church for a variety of reasons. Some protested that the provisions on doctrine "undid the Reformation" others grumbled about over-elaboration, and centralization. However, their complaints came down to the same essential contention - that the new Church was not the old one without the heresy and goofiness, but something subtly, yet radically different. At that point, the Continuum entered its winter of discontent from which it is only slowly emerging. However, we need to be very careful about how this occurs.

At the Victoria Conference, at Brockton later in the same year, and in subsequent discussions, it became evident that the agenda for the 'united Continuum' is very largely being set by those who embrace the Anglo-Catholic Revisionism of the late 1970s. If their interpretation of Anglicanism prevails, what will emerge out of the reunion of the various Continuing Jurisdictions will not be recognizable as the old Episcopalianism, but will be an exotic hybrid of Old Catholic theology with Anglo-Catholic liturgics that rejects two-thirds of the Anglican inheritance. Anglican theological dialogue has rested since the time of Richard Hooker (1554-1600) on the notion that Scripture, tradition, and reason work together to maintain orthodoxy. However, it is very important to understand that Hooker has been glossed by the Tractarians as placing equal weight on each of the three-legs of the stool. This misreads Hooker in a significant way, because for Hooker Scripture was supremely important and eclipsed the other two. The analogy I often use is that of a child's tricycle, with Scripture being the big wheel at the front providing the power and direction, whilst tradition and reason are the small wheels providing stability.

Unfortunately much of modern Anglo-Catholicism has also absorbed an increasing amount of high mediaeval and modern RC thought, and along with it practices such as Marian devotions, Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, and the cultus of the saints, though at least, so far, they have stopped short of Purgatory and the Treasury of Merit, though a few rattle-on about "the intermediate state." Its theological tradition is not so much Anglican as Henrician. Now Martin Luther used to call Henry VIII Hanswürst, and poked fun at him for his matrimonial adventures, and making himself his own Pope. The worst sort of modern Anglo-Catholicism often resembles this "Hanswürst Catholicism." It is not the real thing, neither is it really Anglicanism, but a synthetic creation dependant on what certain folks choose to cherry pick from the history of the Anglican Church, its doctrinal statements, and liturgical traditions to create its own plastic Pope. The approach that it promotes is certainly is not the same as Matthew Parker (1504-1575) - Elizabeth I's first Archbishop of Canterbury's advice to the clergy to interpret the 39 Articles and the third Prayer Book in the most catholic sense according to the Scriptures, and the writings of the ancient Fathers.

Before you run away with the idea that I am hostile to Anglo-Catholicism I must point out that I grew up in a largely "modern Catholic environment" and was involved in the early days of the ACC in England. Later on I was a member of the Priestly Fraternity of St Martin, which was dedicated to upholding the English Catholic/Prayer Book catholic tradition in Anglicanism. However, the Catholic Movement within the Continuum needs to be very careful about guarding its Anglican identity, or it will end up going the same way as Hunswürst's bishops. Many, such as Cranmer and Latimer completed their journey into Protestantism becoming the fathers of the moderate Protestant Anglicanism of Queen Elizabeth I. The others - like Gardner, Bonner, Stanley, and Pursgrove returned to the old religion and died in communion with the Pope.

I would therefore make the plea, that as we seek a united future as traditional Anglicans we return to our roots, not engage in further revisionism. I would suggest that instead of committing ourselves to theologies that are partial, and Constitutions and Canons that have proved divisive we look once again at the old Anglican tradition. I have always been particularly impressed by the way in which both the Church of Ireland (1871,) the Free Church of England (1876,) and the Church of England in Canada (1892) dealt with the question of theological identity. That model, with a protest against modern innovations such as the ordination of women, and in favour of the sanctity of marriage and the sanctity of human life, would prove far less divisive than adopting lock, stock, and barrel the programme of the revisionists to the right of us.