Leonard Woolsey Bacon.

A history of American Christianity online

. (page 32 of 34)
Online LibraryLeonard Woolsey BaconA history of American Christianity → online text (page 32 of 34)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

while characterized in all its ranks, in respect of loyal
devotion to the pope, by a high type of ultramontane
orthodoxy, is to be administered on patriotic American
principles. The brief term of service of Monsignor Satolli
as papal legate clothed with plenipotentiary authority from
the Roman see stamped out the scheme called from its
promoter " Cahenslyism," which would have divided the
American Catholic Church into permanent alien commu-
nities, conserving each its foreign language and organized
under its separate hierarchy. The organization of parishes
to be administered in other languages than English is
suffered only as a temporary necessity. The deadly war-
fare against the American common-school system has
abated. And the anti-American denunciations contained
in the bull and syllabus of December 8, 1864, are openly
renounced as lacking the note of infallibility.^

1 So (for example) Bishop O'Gorman, " The Roman Catholics," p. 434.
And yet, at the time, the bull with its appendix was certainly looked upon as
" an act of infallibility." See, in " La Bulle Quanta Cura et la Civilisation
Moderne, par I'Abb^ Pdage " (Paris, 1865), the utterances of all the French
bishops. The language of Bishop Plantier of Poitiers seems decisive: " The
Vicar of Jesus Christ, doctor and pastor charged with the teaching and ruling
of the entire church, addressed to the bishops, and through them to all the
Christian universe, instructions, the object of which is to settle the mind and
enlighten the conscience on sundry points of Christian doctrine and morals "
(pp. 103, 104). See also pp. 445, 450. This brings it within the Vatican
Council's definition of an infallible utterance. But we are bound to bear in
mind that not only is the infallible authority of this manifesto against " prog-
ress, liberalism, and modern civilization " disclaimed, but the meaning of it,
which seems unmistakably clear, is disputed. " The syllabus," says Bishop


Of course, as in all large communities of vigorous vitality,
there will be mutually antagonist parties in this body ;
but it is hardly to be doubted that with the growth and
acclimatization of the Catholic Church in America that
party will eventually predominate which is most in sym-
pathy with the ruling ideas of the country and the age.

O'Gornian, " is technical and legal in its language, . . . and needs lobe in-
terpreted to the lay reader by the ecclesiastical lawyer " (p. 435).

A seriously important desideratum in theological literature is some au-
thoritative canon of the infallible utterances of the Roman see. It is difficult
to fix on any one of them the infallible authority of which is not open to dis-
pute within the church itself; while the liability of them to misinterpretation
(as in the case of the Quanta Cum and Syllabus) brings in still another ele-
m»nt of vagueness and uncertainty.



The three centuries of history which we have passed
under rapid review comprise a series of poHtical events of
the highest importance to mankind. We have seen, from
our side-point of view, the planting, along the western
coast of the Atlantic Ocean, jyithout mutual concert or
common direction, of many independent germs of civiliza-
tion. So many of these as survived the perils of infancy
we have seen growing to a lusty youth, and becoming
drawn each to each by ties of common interest and
mutual fellowship. Releasing themselves from colonial
dependence on a transatlantic power, we find these several
communities, now grown to be States, becoming conscious,
through common perils, victories, and hopes, of national
unity and life, and ordaining institutes of national govern-
ment binding upon all. The strong vitality of the new
nation is proved by its assimilating to itself an immense
mass of immigrants from all parts of Europe, and by ex-
panding itself without essential change over the area of a
r continent. It triumphs again and again, and at last in a
struggle that shakes the world, over passions and interests
that threaten schism in the body politic, and gives good
reason to its friends to boast the solid unity of the repub-


lie as the strongest existing fact in the political world.
The very great aggrandizement of the nation has been an
affair of the last sixty years ; but already it has recorded
itself throughout the vast expanse of the continent in
monuments of architecture and engineering worthy of the
national strength.

The ecclesiastical history which has been recounted ir.
this volume, covering the same territory and the same
period of time, runs with equal pace in many respects
parallel with the political history, but in one important
respect with a wide divergence. As with civilization so
with Christianity : the germs of it, derived from different
regions of Christendom, were planted without concert of
purpose, and often with distinct cross-purposes, in different
seed-plots along the Atlantic seaboard. Yarying in polity,
in forms of dogmaticstatement, and even in language, the
diverse growths were made, through wonders of spiritual
influence and through external stress of trial, t^ieeLtheir
un.ity-in the one-iaith. The course of a common experi-
ence tended iO£Stablish a predominant type of religious
life the influence.oi which has been everywhere felt, even
when it has not been consented to. The vital strength of
the American church, as of the American nation, has been
subjected to the test of the importation of enormous masses
of more or less uncongenial population, and has shown
an amazing:43Qwer of digestion and assimilation. Its re-
sources have been taxed by the providential imposition of
burdens of duty and responsibility such, in magnitude and
weight, as never since the early preaching of the gospel
have pressed upon any single generation of the church.
Within the space of a single lifetime, at an expenditure of
toil and treasure which it is idle to attempt to compute,
the wide and desolate wilderness, as fast as civilization has
invaded it, has been occupied by the church with churches,


schools, colleges, and seminaries of theology, with pastors,
evangelists, and teachers, and, in one way or another, has
been constrained to confess itself Christian. The conti-
nent which so short a time ago had been compassionately
looked upon from across the sea as missionary ground has
become a principal base of supplies, and recruiting-ground
for men and women, for missionary operations in ancient
lands of heathenism and of a decayed Christianity.

So much for the parallel. The divergence is not less
impressive. In contrast with the solid political unity into
which the various and incongruous elements have settled
1 themselves, the unity of the Christian church is manifested
by oneness neither of jurisdiction nor of confederation,
nor even by diplomatic recognition and correspondence.
Out of the total population of the United States, amount-
ing, according to the census of 1890, to 62,622,000 souls,
the 57,000,000 accounted as Christians, including 20,-
000,000 communicant church-members, are gathered into
165,297 congregations, assembling in 142,000 church
edifices containing 43,000,000 sittings, and valued (to-
gether with other church property) at $670,000,000; and
are served in the ministry of the gospel by more than
1 1 1,000 ministers.^ But this great force is divided among
^_^ 143 mutually independent sects, larger and smaller.
Among these sects is recognized no controlling and coor-
dinating authority ; neither is there any common leader-
ship; neither is there any system of mutual counsel and

1 These statistical figures are taken from the authoritative work of Dr.
H.K.Carroll, "The Religious ForcesoftheUnited States " (American Church
History Series, vol. i. ). The volume gives no estimate of the annual ex-
penditure for the maintenance of religious institutions. If we assume the
small figure of $500 as the average annual expenditure in connection with
each house of worship, it makes an aggregate of $82,648,500 for parochial
expenses. The annual contributions to Protestant foreign and home mis-
sions amount to $7,000,000. (See above, pp. 358, 359.) The amounts an-
nually contributed as free gifts for Christian schools and colleges and hospi-
tals and other charitable objects can at present be only conjectured,


concert. The mutual relations of the sects are sometimes
those of respect and good will, sometimes of sharp com-
petition and jealousy, sometimes of eager and conscientious
hostility. All have one and the same unselfish and re-
ligious aim — to honor God in serving their fellow-men ;
and each one, in honestly seeking this supreme aim, is
affected by its corporate interests, sympathies, and antip-

This situation is too characteristic of America, and too
distinctly connected with the whole course of the antece-
dent history, not to be brought out with emphasis in this
concluding chapter. In other lands the church is main-
tained, through the power of the civil government, under
the exclusive control of a single organization, in which
the element of popular influence may be wholly wanting,
or may be present (as in many of the " Reformed " polities)
in no small measure. In others yet, through. government
influence and favor, a strong predominance is given to one
organized communion, under the shadow of which dissen-
tient minorities are tolerated and protected. Under th e
ahgnj iitp ffppdnm and pqnalil-y of fhe Ameriran system
therp^is_!iot so muchLag^^redpminance of any one of the
sects. No one of them is so strong and numerous but
that it is outnumbered and outweighed by the aggregate
of the two next to it. At present, in consequence of the
rush of immigration, the Roman Catholic Church is largely
in advance of any single denomination besides, but is in-
ferior in numerical strength and popular influence to the
Methodists and Baptists combined — if they were com-

And there is no doubt that this comminution of the
church is frankly accepted, for reasons assigned, not only
as an inevitable drawback to the blessings of religious
freedom, but as a good thing in itself. A weighty sen-


' tence of James Madison undoubtedly expresses the pre-
vailing sentiment among Americans who contemplate the
subject merely from the political side : " In a free govern-
ment the security for civil rights must be the same as that
for religious rights. It consists, in the one case, in the
multiplicity of interests, and, in the other, in the multi-
plicity of sects. The degree of security in both cases will
L depend on the number of interests and sects." ^ And no
student of history can deny that there is much to justify
the jealousy with which the lovers of civil liberty watch
the climbing of any sect, no matter how purely spiritual
its constitution, toward a position of command in popular
influence. The influence of the leaders of such a sect may
be nothing more than the legitimate and well-deserved
influence of men of superior wisdom and virtue ; but when
reinforced by the weight of official religious character, and
backed by a majority, or even a formidable minority, of
voters organized in a religious communion, the feehng is
sure to gain ground that such power is too great to be
trusted to the hands even of the best of men. Whatever
sectarian advantage such a body may achieve in the state
by preponderance of number will be more than offset by
the public suspicion and the watchful jealousy of rival
\ sects ; and the weakening of it by division, or the subor-
dination of it by the overgrowth of a rival, is sure to be
' regarded with general complacency.

It is not altogether a pleasing object of contemplation
— the citizerL-and-the^statesnian looking with contentment
on the schism of the church as averting a danger to the
state. It is hardly more gratifying when we find ministers
of the church themselves accepting the condition of schism
as being, on the whole, a very good condition for the
church of Christ, if not, indeed, the best possible. It is

1 The " Federalist," No. 51.


quite unreservedly argued that the principle, " Competition
is the life of business," is applicable to spiritual as well as
secular concerns ; and the " emulations " reprobated by
the Apostle Paul as " works of the flesh " are frankly ap-
pealed to for promoting the works of the spirit. This
debasing of the motive of church work is naturally at-
tended by a debasement of the means employed. The
competiti ve church res orts^lCLsirange business devices to
secure its needed revenue. " He that giveth " is induced
to give, not " with simplicity," but with a view to inciden-
tal advantages, and a distinct understanding is maintained
between the right hand and the left. The extent and
variety of this influence on church life in America afi"ord
no occasion for pride, but the mention of them could not /
rightly be omitted. It remains for the future to decide {
whether they must needs continue as an inevitable atten-
dant on the voluntary system.

Sectarian divisions tend strongly to perpetuate them-
selves. The starting of schism is easy and quick; the
healing of it is a matter of long diplomatic negotiations.
In a very short time the division of the church, with its
necessary relations to property and to the employment of
officials, becomes a vested interest. Provision for large
expenditure unnecessary, or even detrimental, to the gen-
eral interests of the kingdom of Christ, which had been
instituted in the first place at heavy cost to the many, is
not to be discontinued without more serious loss to influ-
ential individuals. Those who would set themselves about
the healing of a schism must reckon upon personal and
property interests to be conciliated. ^

This least amiable characteristic of the growth of the ]
Christian church in America is not without its compensa-
tions. The very fact of the existence, in presence of one
another, of these multitudinous rival sects, all equal before \


the law, tends in the long run, under the influence of the
Holy Spirit of peace, to a large and comprehensive fellow-
ship.^ The widely prevalent acceptance of existing con-
' ditions as probably permanent, even if not quite normal,
softens the mutual reproaches of rival parties. The pre-
sumption is of course implied, if not asserted, in the exist-
ence of any Christian sect, that it is holding the absolute
right and truth, or at least more nearly that than other
sects; and the inference, to a religious mind, is that the
right and true must, in the long run, prevail. But it is
only with a high act of faith, and not as a matter of rea-
sonable probability, that any sect in America can venture
to indulge itself in the expectation of a supremacy, or
even a predominance, in American Christendom. The
strongest in numbers, in influence, in prestige, however
tempted to assert for itself exclusive or superior rights, is
compelled to look about itself and find itself overwhelm-
ingly outnumbered and outdone by a divided communion
— and yet a communion — of those whom Christ " is not
ashamed to call his brethren " ; and just in proportion as
it has the spirit of Christ, it is constrained in its heart to
treat them as brethren and to feel toward them as brethren.

1 " This habit of respecting one another's rights cherishes a feehng of
mutual respect and courtesy. If on the one hand the spirit of independence
fosters individualism, on the other it favors good fellowship. All sects are
equal before the law. . . . Hence one great cause of jealousy and distrust
is removed ; and though at times sectarian zeal may lead to rivalries and con-
troversies unfavorable to unity, on the other hand the independence and
equality of the churches favor their voluntary cooperation ; and in no coun-
try is the practical union of Christians more beautifully or more beneficiaily
exemplified than in the United States. With the exception of the Roman
Catholics, Christians of all communions are accustomed to work together in
the spirit of mutual concession and confidence, in educational, r:iissionary,
and philanthropic measures for the general good. TJ^e niottn n f _tlie.^ate
holds of the church also, E^^hiriklls^MMMJii. As a rule, a bigoted church or
a fierce sectarian is despised" (Dr. J. P. Thompson, in "Church and
State in the United States," pp. 98, 99). See, to the like purport, the judi-
cious remarks of Mr. Bryce, " American Commonwealth," vol. ii., pp. 568,



Its protest against what it regards as their errors and defects
is nowise weakened by the most unreserved manifestations
of respect and good will as toward fellow-Christians. Thus
it comes to pass that the observant traveler from other
countries, seeking the distinctive traits of American social
life, "notes a kindlier feeling between all denominations,
Roman Catholics included, a greater readiness to \^•ork
together for common charitable aims, than between Catho-
lics and Protestants in France or Germany, or between
Anglicans and nonconformists in England." ^

There are many indications, in the recent history of the
American church, poiatjng forward toward somc-iiigher
manifestadon^fthje true unity, of the church than is to be
found in occasional, or even habitual, expressions of mu-
tual good will passing to and fro among sharply comj^et-
ing and often antagonist sects. Instead of easy-going
and playful felicitations on the multitude of sects«as con-
tributing to the total effectiveness of the church, such as
used to be common enough on " anniversary " platforms,
we hear, in one frtrnr and another, the acknowledgment
that the^vided and subdivided state of American Chris-
tendom is not rights but wrong. Whose is the wrong
need not be decided; certainly it does not wholly belong
to the men of this generation or of this country ; we are
heirs of the schisms of other lands and ages, and have
added to them schisms of our own making. The matter
begins to be taken soberly and seriously. The tender
entreaty of the Apostle Paul not to suffer ourselves to be
split up into sects - begins to get a hearing in the con-
science. The nisits toward a more manifest union among
Christian believers has long been growing more and more

1 Bryce, " American Commonwealth," vol. ii., p. 568.

2 I Cor. i. 10.


'r' I distinctly visible, and is at the present day one of the most

^ I ^conspicuous signs of the times.

Already in the early history we have observed a tend-
ency toward the healing, in America, of differences im-
ported from over sea. Such was the commingling of
Separatist and Puritan in New England; the temporary
alliance of Congregationalist and Presbyterian to avert the
imposition of a state hierarchy ; the combination of Quaker
and Roman Catholic to defeat a project of religious op-
pression in Maryland ; the drawing together of Lutheran
and Reformed Germans for common worship, under tlie
saintly influence of the Moravian Zinzendorf; and the
" Plan of Union " by which New Englander and Scotch-
Irishman were to labor in common for the evangelization
7 of the new settlements.^ These were sporadic instances of
^ a tendency that was by and by to become happily epi-
\ demic. A more important instance of the same tendency
was the organization of societies for charitable work which
should unite the gifts and personal labors of the Christians
of the whole continent. The chief period of these organi-
zations extended from 1810, the date of the beginning of
the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Mis-
sions, to 1826, when the American Home Missionary
Society was founded.^ The " catholic basis " on which
they were established was dictated partly by the conscious
weakness of the several sects as they drew near to under-
takings formidable even to their united forces, and partly
by the glow of fraternal affection, and the sense of a com-
mon spiritual life pervading the nation, with which the
church had come forth from the fervors of " the second
awakening."^ The societies, representing the common

1 See above, pp. 6i, 95, 190, 206, 220, 258.

2 See above, pp. 252-259.

3 Among the New England Congregationalists the zeal for union went so
far as to favor combination with other sects even in the work of training can-


faith and cliarity of the whole church as distuiguished
from the pecuHarities of the several sects, drew to them-
selves the affection and devotion of Christian hearts to a
degree which, to those who highly valued these distinc-
tions, seemed to endanger important interests. And, in-
deed, the situation was anomalous, in w^hich the sectarian
divisions of the Christian people were represented in the
churches, and their catholic unity in charitable societies.
It would have seemed more Pauhne, not to say more
Christian, to have had voluntary societies for the secta-
rian work, and kept the churches for Christian communion.
It is no wonder that High-church champions, on one side
and another, soon began to shout to their adherent.?, " To
your tents, O Israel ! " Bishop Hobart played not in vain
upon his pastoral pipe to whistle back his sheep from
straying outside of his pinfold, exhorting them, " in their
endeavors for the general advancement of religion, to use
only the instrumentality of their own church." ^ And a
jealousy of the growing influence of a wide fellowship, in
charitable labors, with Christians of other names, led to the
enunciation of a like doctrine by High-church Presbyte-
rians,- and contributed to the convulsive and passionate
rending of the Presbyterian Church, in 1837, into nearly

didates for the ministry. Among the " honorary vice-presidents " of their
" American Education Society " was Bishop Griswold, of the Eastern Diocese
of the Protestant Episcopal Church.

1 Sermon at consecration of Bishop H. U. Onderdonk, 1827.

2 Minutes of the Convention of Delegates met to consult on Missions in
the City of Cincinnati, K.v>. 1831. The position of the bishop was more
logical than that of the convention, forasmuch as he held, by a powerful
effort of faith, that " his own " church is the church of the United States, in
an exclusive sense ; while the divines at Cincinnati earnestly repudiate such
exclusive pretensions for their church, and hold to a plurality of sectarian
churches on the same territory, each one of which is divinely invested with
the prerogatives and duties of "the church of Christ." A iisiis loqnendi
which seems to be hopelessly imbedded in the English language applies the
word " church" to each one of the several sects into which the church is
divided. It is this corruption of language which leads to the canonization
of schism as a divine ordinance.


equal fragments. So effective has been the centrifugal
force that of the extensive system of societies which from
the year 1810 onward first organized works of national
beneficence by enhsting the cooperation of " all evangeli-
cal Christians," the American Bible Society alone con-
tinues to represent any general and important combination
from among the different denominations.

For all the waning of interest in the "catholic basis"
societies, the sacred discontent of the Christian people with
sectarian division continued to demand expression. How
early the aspiration for an ecumenical council of evangeli-
cal Christendom became articulate, it may not be easy to
discover.^ In the year 1846 the aspiration was in some
measure realized in the first meeting of the Evangelical
Alliance at London. No more mistakes were made in this
meeting than perhaps were necessarily incident to a first
~ experiment in untried work. Almost of course the good
people began with the question, What good men shall we
keep out? for it is a curious fact, in the long and interest-
ing history of efforts after Christian union, that they com-
monly take the form of efforts so to combine many
L Christians as to exclude certain others. In this instance,
beginning with the plan of including none but Protestant
Christians, they proceeded at once to frame a platform
that should bar out that " great number of the best and
holiest men in England who are found among the Qua-

Online LibraryLeonard Woolsey BaconA history of American Christianity → online text (page 32 of 34)