Friday, August 22, 2008

The Last Time We Split

I read a quotation from this on the House of Bishops and Deputies mailing list. Here is a taster. The entirety is well worth the read.


We meet, to-day, under circumstances very unlike any which have ever surrounded us since our connection as Bishop and people. Hitherto we have assembled as an Ecclesiastical Council, with no cares resting upon our hearts save those which concerned the Church of Christ. To-day we feel most painfully, in addition to these, the sorrow which arises from the severed ties of friendship and of country. Hitherto peace has ever smiled upon our meetings with her bright face of prosperity and security. To-day the whole land is resounding with the preparation for war--war with those who, until a few months since, were our countrymen and our brethren. Hitherto our Church has moved undisturbed through all the storms which have agitated the civil State. To-day a stern necessity is laid upon us to examine relations which we fondly hoped would be indestructible. May God's Holy Spirit shed more abundantly than ever upon us the spirit of wisdom and of understanding, and may we receive grace to put away from us all pride, prejudice, and passion, and to consult together as the children of the God of Love and disciples of the Prince of Peace.

As an ordinary rule, the Church of Christ has but little to do with political events, and our own branch of that Church has most scrupulously avoided all entanglement with parties and their unceasing conflicts. She has ever inculcated the Apostolic rule that "the powers which be are ordained of God," and has enjoined upon her members the Christian duties of reverence for established authority, and of obedience to law and order. Even up to this moment, through all the angry discussions, and excited passions of the last seventy years, she has never, in any of her numerous synodical conventions, taken any part in the sectional movements which have agitated and convulsed the Union. Although the ablest laymen of the country, many of them politicians, warmly engaged in the current strife of the day, have held seats in her councils, they have invariably abstained, while in Ecclesiastical session, from all interference with politics, and have ever confined themselves to the legitimate business of the Church, the advancement of "Peace on earth, good will towards men." Whatever may have been their private opinions, they have carefully held them in abeyance, while engaged in the councils of the Church. This wise and Christian conduct has made the Episcopal Church a wonder and a glory in the land, and while most of the other Christian bodies of the late United States have been engaged in strife and bitter contention, and have many of them long since severed all christian union and communion, our Church has never permitted these distracting questions to enter within her consecrated walls. Amid the present confusion and distraction of the country, she can lift up clean hands and a pure heart and appeal to the God of Heaven that she has had no part nor lot, as a Church, in producing the strife which is rapidly marching to dip its feet in blood.

But while, as a Church, she has had no share in producing the condition of things which exists around her, she is nevertheless involved in that condition, and cannot, by any means, be made independent of it. Every member of the Church is a member likewise of the Commonwealth, unless, as Hooker says in the 8th book of his Ecclesiastical Polity, "the name of the Church be restrained in a Christian Commonwealth to the Clergy, excluding all the residue of believers." And being members at the same time of the Church and of the Commonwealth, the circumstances and relations of the one must affect the circumstances and relations of the other. 'Tis true that "under dominion of infidels" as in the times of the primitive Church, "the Church of Christ and their Commonwealth were two societies independent," but in that case a state of antagonism existed between Christianity and Paganism, which absolutely forbad any mutual dependency between them. But when the Commonwealth, as in our times, is, if not professedly, at least practically, Christian, it is almost impossible to draw any line which can separate the relations of the Church from the relations of the Commonwealth. The actions of the Commonwealth being the actions of the citizens of that Commonwealth, and those citizens making up the body of the Church and forming its Legislature, there must be, inevitably, a mutual relationship and dependency. It can not be got rid of, without abolishing the whole framework of constitutional and canonical law which binds the Protestant Episcopal Church of this country.

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