Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

a bishop, to their own infinite loss and inconvenience; and the obstinate determination of all the other Churches to keep them in that condition of disadvantage, though not without excuse, had fostered very uncharitable and unchristian feelings in the religious world of America. After the Revolution, however, the grievance under which the Episcopalians had so long suffered was removed with the willing assent of all, and the hearty and helpful concurrence of some who had figured among the most eminent and formidable opponents of the British Government. John Adams, as the first American Envoy at the Court of St. James's, was both active and discreet in his efforts to promote the consecration of American bishops in London. Benjamin Franklin, though himself no great church-goer, had all through life been very ready to give advice upon religious matters, and sometimes to volunteer it in quarters where it was not acceptable. He had been the prime mover in equipping Philadelphia with a non-sectarian meetinghouse, for the use of any preacher of any persuasion. Sectarian places of worship he seldom entered; (for he complained that the minister aimed at making his hearers good Presbyterians and Congregationalists rather than good citizens ;) but he taught his neighbours how to fit their steeples with lightning-conductors, and there was no end to the conspicuously unselfish trouble which he took in helping them to warm the inside of their churches. His interest in other people's religion once carried him so far that he assisted a Noble Lord of his acquaintance to abridge the Anglican Liturgy; but that was almost the only unsuccessful venture of his enterprising career, inasmuch as very few copies were sold, and the bulk became waste paper.? before it happened. A very curious passage from his pen is printed in the Fifth Appendix at the end of this volume.

1 Letter from Franklin printed in the Memoirs of Granville Sharp, Esq.; Part II., chapter vi. "Franklin attributed the failure of the book to his noble collaborator, who had abridged the Prayers very badly. He himself had undertaken only the Catechism, and the reading and singing Psalms. Franklin had suffered, very early in life, for his zeal endeav

Franklin had always desired to see the controversy about American bishops settled upon equitable and reasonable terms; he was ashamed of the evil-speaking and ill-temper which the dispute provoked ; and, when the war had terminated, he did all he could to assist the Episcopalians in the accomplishment of their wishes. On their behalf he knocked at many doors. He inquired of the Pope's Nuncio at Paris whether candidates might be ordained as Protestant clergymen by the Roman Catholic bishop in America; but to get such a prayer granted was beyond even Franklin's powers of persuasion. He then advised that recourse should be had to Lord Frederic Augustus Hervey, the Bishop of Derry in Ireland, whom he described, most assuredly in no exaggerated terms, as “a man of liberal sentiments." He suggested an application to the ecclesiastical authorities in Sweden and Denmark; and, if all else failed, he recommended American Episcopalians, after the example of the primitive Christian Church in Scotland, to elect and induct a bishop for themselves. A hundred years from that date, (Franklin said,) it would seem inconceivable that men, qualified by their learning and piety to pray for and instruct their fellows, should not have been permitted so to do until they had made a voyage of six thousand miles out and home, in order to ask leave of a cross old gentleman at Canterbury.3

It was fortunate for the American Episcopalians that

ouring to curtail religious ceremonies; for, after the manner of most reformers, he began young, and began on his father. Old Mr. Franklin was packing a barrel of beef in the cellar; and Benjamin suggested that time would be saved in the future by asking a blessing, once for all, over the whole barrel.

Franklin wrote to his sister from England on this subject in February 1769. “Your squabbles about a bishop,” he said, “I wish to see speedily ended. I do not conceive that bishops residing in America would either be of such advantage to Episcopalians, or such disadvantage to anti-Episcopalians, as either seem to imagine. Each party abuses the other. The profane and infidel believe both sides, and enjoy the fray."

2 “The thing is impossible,” said the Nuncio, "unless the gentlemen become Catholics."

3 Franklin to Messrs. Weems and Gant ; Passy, 18 July, 1784.

their cause had been espoused by a more suitable champion than Benjamin Franklin. For a good many years past their unhappy condition had appealed to a man whose sympathy was never a barren or idle emotion. Granville Sharp possessed rare qualifications for the office of a mediator between the mother-country and her former colonies. His upright character, and earnest piety, secured for him the confidence of every sincere and devout member of the Church of England; and the most vindictive Whigs of Massachusetts or Virginia could not forget that, in the crisis of the recent struggle, he had accepted poverty rather than consent to raise his hand against the American cause. Standing between the two parties, and revered by both, Granville Sharp adjured the Congregationalists and Presbyterians of the United States not to grudge their Episcopalian fellow-citizens a boon which was their undoubted right, and essential to their welfare; he stirred the conscience of those among the English bishops who had grown lukewarm towards the Church in America ever since they had been forced to abandon the hope of seeing it established, and regnant, throughout that country; and he quickened the pace of the British Parliament which, after its fashion, preferred to move by easy stages. Our laws forbade the ordination of any candidate, who found himself unable to take the Oath of Allegiance to the King; and in May 1784 an Act was passed, dispensing with this obligation in the case of priests and deacons who were not the King's subjects. No clergyman, however, who declined to swear could be consecrated as a bishop; and accordingly it was obvious that in the United States bishops there could be none. An aspirant for orders must still cross the Atlantic, or remain a layman; and the Church in America, although in no worse, nevertheless was as yet in no better, position than in the old days before the Revolution.

The existing conditions were intolerable, and the prospect of improvement small. Lord Chancellor Thurlow,

the most potent force in Pitt's Cabinet on questions which touched the Church and involved the law, held that concession had gone too far already, and set his face stiffy against all further progress. But a still stronger, and a much better, man than Thurlow at this critical moment made his appearance on the scene.

This was Doctor Seabury, who, under the name of a Westchester Farmer, wrote with so much wit and fire against the American Revolution during its earlier stages; and who, in the interval between two fierce battles, had preached in General Howe's camp on the duty of fearing God and honouring the King. In the course of the war, Seabury had been ruthlessly used by political opponents who were his implacable personal enemies. He had been despoiled of almost everything else that belonged to him; but he had retained, and increased, the respectful admiration with which he was regarded by good men of all parties among his compatriots. In the spring of 1783, (so we are told,) a little company of the clergy,

men as noble as ever manned a forlorn hope, or went down to ruin for a sacred idea, assembled in a lonely Connecticut parsonage, solemnly designated Samuel Seabury as the first bishop of the American Episcopal Church, and requested him to go to England for consecration.1

To England he went; and there he was told by the Archbishop of Canterbury that the object which the Church in Connecticut sought was greatly to be desired, but that the difficulties were insuperable. “If your Grace," replied Seabury, "will not grant me consecration, I know where to obtain it.” He left the room abruptly, and started forth with for Aberdeen; and he was there admitted as a bishop by three non-juring pre

tes of the Scottish Episcopal Church.2 Shortly afterwards the King of Denmark ordered Mr. John Adams to be informed that the Danish bishops were prepared to ordain any American of proper qualities, and good

1 Tyler's Literary History; Vol. I., chapter xv., section vii.
2 Memoirs of Granville Sharp; Part II., chapters vi. and vii.

character, who would subscribe the Articles of the Church of England. His Majesty, moreover, intimated his willingness to set up a bishopric in one of the West Indian Islands which belonged to Denmark, so that the candidates for orders might find facilities within a comparatively short distance from their native shores. This announcement brought matters to an issue. The knowledge that, in more than one quarter, there was competition for the future good graces of the Church in the United States produced an immediate effect on the British Cabinet, and on the Episcopal Bench in the House of Lords. In the Spring Session of 1786 a Statute was passed which allowed the Oath of Allegiance to be omitted at the Consecration of Bishops who were citizens of foreign countries; and, in February 1787, Granville Sharp enjoyed the well-deserved satisfaction of conducting two American clergymen to Lambeth for consecration. Before the close of the nineteenth century there were eighty bishops, in communion with the Church of England, on that soil where not a single one had been able to show his face until the establishment of National Independence deadened the memories, and soothed the apprehensions, which the Episcopal title formerly excited in an American's mind. A bishop, from that time forwards, was regarded as the freely chosen administrator and rector of a self-governing religious body; and no longer as the emissary of a militant State Church beyond the seas, which was abetted in all its invasions and encroachments by those Royal governors who wielded the authority of the Crown.

1 John Adams had been in correspondence with the Danish Government with reference to the ordination of an American student of divinity, named Mason Weems. When a favourable answer came from Copenhagen, it was communicated to Mr. Weems ; "and," wrote Adams," it soon procured him a more polite reception from the English clergy. Indeed, it laid the foundation of not only Mr. Weems's ordination, but of the whole system of Episcopacy in the United States."

2 " An Act to empower the Archbishop of Canterbury, or the Archbishop of York, for the time being, to consecrate to the Office of a Bishop persons being Subjects or Citizens of Countries out of His Majesty's Dominions."

« ПредишнаНапред »