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Sparks on Episcopacy

Brownson's Quarterly Review, July, 1844

ART. VI. — Letters on the Ministry, Ritual, and Doctrines of the Protestant Episcopal Church, addressed to Rev. Win. E. Wyatt, D. D., Associate Minister of St. Paul's Parish, Baltimore, and Professor of Theology in the University of Maryland, in Reply to a Sermon exhibiting some of the principal Doctrines of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States. By JARED SPARKS, formerly Minister of the First Independent Church of Baltimore. Second Edition. Boston: James Munroe & Co., 1844. 12mo. pp. 240.

OUR own general estimate of the Protestant Episcopal Church, when viewed in relation to unity and catholicity, may be easily collected from a foregoing article. We are compelled to regard it as a Protestant communion ; and we are unable to find any ground on which Protestantism, taken as a separation in doctrine or communion from the Holy See, can be defended, without rejecting all notions of the Church as an organic body. We know not what new light may break in upon our minds, but, so far as at present informed, we are compelled, by what seems to us to be the force of truth, to look upon the separation of the reformers from the Roman communion, in the sixteenth century, as irregular, unnecessary, and, we must add, as a serious calamity to Christendom. We deny not that there was a necessity for a thorough reform of manners; but we cannot but think and believe, that, if the reformers had confined themselves to such reforms, and to such modes of effecting them, as were authorized or permitted by the canons of the Church, they would have much more successfully corrected the real abuses of which they complained, and done infinitely more service to the cause of religion and social progress. Their separation, if not a terrible sin, was at best a terrible mistake, which all sincere lovers of the Lord and his Spouse should deeply lament, and over which no one should permit himself to exult.

Taking this view of the Protestant Reformation, we are compelled to regard all Protestant communions as schismatic in their origin, at least, as irregular and censurable. Prom the charge here implied, we can find no special grounds for excepting the Protestant Episcopal Church. Her pretensions to Catholicity we do not find supported; and although she retains much of the old Catholic faith, and many Catholic elements rejected by her sister communions, yet she cannot, and even dares not, call herself the Catholic Church. We have no wish to disguise the fact,—nor could we, if we would,— that our ecclesiastical, theological, and philosophical studies have brought us to the full conviction, that, either the Church in communion with the See of Rome is the One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church, or the One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church does not exist. We have tried every possible way to escape this conclusion, but escape it we cannot. We must accept it, or go back to the No-church doctrine we put forth in our somewhat famous, or rather, notorious, Essay on the Laboring Classes. Our logic allows us no alternative between Catholicism and Come-outerism. But we have tried Come-outerism to our full satisfaction. We are thoroughly convinced in mind, heart, and soul, that Christ did institute a visible Church; that he founded it upon a rock ; that the gates of hell have not prevailed, and cannot prevail, against it; and that it is the duty of us all to submit to it, as the representative of the Son of God on earth.

But, notwithstanding this, we have felt that the primary question for us, who have been born and brought up in Protestant communions, is not so much, Which is the true apostolic Church ? as, What is the apostolic model ? and that our first work should be, to bring our respective commifnions, in their constitution, doctrine, discipline, and usage, into strict conformity with that model. This may, perhaps, be disputed ; but certainly we must believe that to ascertain, from our own standpoints, what is the apostolic model, and to labor to conform our respective communions to it, cannot be a work unprofitable, nor unacceptable to the Great Head of the Church.

We take it for granted that no serious Protestant can be satisfied with the present state of our Protestant world. The foundation of all moral and social well-being is in religion ; and religion cannot coexist, at least, not in its efficacy, with our sectarian divisions, dissensions, and animosities. Union is loudly demanded. We hear the cry for it from all quarters. But union in error is out of the question. We can unite only on the truth, and, as Christians, only by conforming in all things to the apostolic model. Then, what is this model? This question necessarily opens up the whole question of the Church,—the great question of what it really is, of its place and necessity in the economy of Providence, and its means and method of recovering sinners and aiding the growth and sanctity of believers. This question is to be answered only by a philosophic appeal to the Apostles and Fathers, to the Bible interpreted by the light of ecclesiastical antiquity.
The Church is the divinely instituted body for the recovery of sinners, and the growth and sanctification of believers. It is not an anomaly in God's universe, but contemplated by the original plan of creation, and essential to its complete realization. All the works of the Creator, and all the events of Providence, presuppose it, and point to it, as that in which they are to receive their fulfilment. It is necessary, on the same ground and for the same reason that the Incarnation was necessary, that is to say, because man can commune with God only by virtue of some medium through which he is revealed. No man hath seen God at any time ; no man can see him and live ; and no man knoweth the Father, but the Son, and he to whom the Son reveals him. We behold the glory of the Father only in the face of Jesus Christ, who is the revelation of God. We see nothing without a medium. I can behold no object but through the medium of that which is distinguishable from both myself who behold, and the object beheld ; namely, the light. Light is neither myself nor that which I see, but the simple medium of sight, without which there would be no sight.   So the only begotten Son of God is the light by which I behold the Father, by which the invisible becomes visible, the inapproachable becomes accessible. The Gospel is all here in the mystery of the Incarnation, — " the mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh."

We are obliged here to separate from our Unitarian brethren, with whom we have for many years been in some degree associated, among whom we have so many friends, and to the learning, ability, singleness of purpose, and great moral worth of many of whom we can bear full and willing testimony. Yet we owe it to them and to ourselves to say, frankly, that we cannot reconcile the denial of the Incarnation, the proper divinity and proper humanity of Christ, "the mystery of godliness," with faith in Christianity at all. The Gospel, according to our Unitarian friends, appears to us to be another Gospel, and wholly incompatible with the Gospel of our Lord, and wholly incompatible with any sound doctrine of life. Whoso denies that the Word, consub-stantial with the Father, was made flesh and dwelt among us, denies the faith once delivered to the saints; and whoso perceives not the reason and necessity, in the economy of Providence, of the doctrine of the Incarnation, and of the union, without confusion, of the two natures, the human and the divine, in the one person of Jesus, it seems to us, must needs perceive nothing of the reason and necessity of the Gospel, nor of the profound significance of Christian redemption.

But for the same reason that it was originally necessary that the Wom>, which is God, should be incarnated, that is, embodied in space and time, so that we, AVIIO are creatures of space and time, might have a medium of communion with that which transcends space and time, — a medium of access to the Father, — is it still necessary that the Word should continue to be embodied and dwell among us. The incarnation of the Word two thousand years ago would not avail us, if there were no present incarnation. Jesus, independent of all present embodiment in space and time, would be to us precisely what he was before he was born of the Blessed Virgin. He would be to us pure spirit, for all is pure spirit that pertains to eternity, and therefore invisible and inaccessible. We should, then, have no more regular or certain way of coming into a spiritual relation with the Father of spirits than we should have had, if lie had not come at all. The whole rests on this great fact, that we can commune with spirit only as embodied, that is to say, through the medium of a " prepared body. " Hence, when Jesus says, " Lo ! I come to do thy will, 0 God ! " he adds, " For a body hast thou prepared me."

The radical necessity of the Church is in the radical necessity of this " prepared body " ; and the radical idea of the Church is, that it reproduces and continues the incarnation of the WORD. It is, as St. Paul says, the " body oi Christ " ; and in it we find continued the same union, without confusion, of the human and divine, which was in Christ himself. As Christ was the revelation of the Father, the light by which human eyes may behold the Divinity, mortality behold immortality, so is the Church the revelation of Christ, the light by which we behold him in whose face shines the glory of the Father. Hence, Jesus, addressing his disciples, as the Church, says, "Ye are the light of the world."

In the Church is ever present the Holy Ghost, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, but who is one with the Father and the Son. As in the days when Jesus, as son of Mary, tabernacled in the flesh, we would have approached him bodily, and sat at his feet in order to come to God and learn of him; so now we must approach the Church, the reproduction and continuation, so to speak, of his body, and learn his will, receive his spirit, and by him be united to God, the Father of life and Fountain of blessedness. Such is our radical conception of the Church. It is to Christ what Christ was to the-Father; and as the Son spoke in the name and by the authority of the Father, because the Father was in him, and he in the Father; so the Church speaks in the name and by the authority of Christ, because he is in the Church and the Church in him.

The radical conception of the Church, as the body of Christ, is necessarily that of an authoritative body, but of a body whose authority is divine, not human. Here is the source of the error of Mr. Sparks's work on " Episcopacy." Mr. Sparks is a Unitarian, and takes up the subject from the Unitarian point of view. As a Unitarian, he cannot conceive of the union of perfect God and perfect man in the one person of Jesus ; and for the same reason, he cannot conceive of the union of the human and divine, without confusion, in the Church. Consequently, as he sees in Jesus only man, he can see in the Church only human authority ; and this authority he very properly rejects. His work is not properly a work against Episcopacy, but against the Church as an authoritative body, and all the doctrines that would tend to make it an authoritative body. He denies the right, not merely of Episcopacy, but of the Church herself, to claim or exercise any authority over the individual reason and conscience, and therefore, in principle, if not in fact, her right to exercise any control over the life and conduct of her members. The Church, with him, therefore, disappears, and can at best be replaced only by a voluntary association of believers.
But, if there is any truth in the principles we have laid down, Mr. Sparks not only rejects the authority of the Church, and therefore the Church herself, but the Gospel of Christ, and denies, virtually, that God through Christ has made any permanent provision for the salvation of sinners, and the growth and sanctification of believers. The question he raises is not a question between Episcopacy and Congregationalism, but between Church and No-church, between apostolic Christianity and no Christianity.

But leaving Mr. Sparks and his Unitarianism, conceding to him that no human authority has any right to control us in faith or discipline, yet asserting that the Church represents the authority of Christ, or rather, is the human medium through which Christ exercises his divine authority, as his body which was crucified was the medium through which he revealed his divine Sonship, we may still ask, Where is this authority lodged ? Who are " the earthen vessels " to whom it is committed? Is it commited to the brotherhood, or to the apostolic ministry ? Here is the true question between Episcopacy and Congregationalism. Both admit the Church ; both admit it to be an authoritative body; and both admit its authority to be not its, but Christ's ; that is, not its authority in so far as it is human, but only in so far as it is divine. Both agree that no human authority is legitimate, and that the only authority which is legitimate is Christ's authority. Both agree, also, as to the nature and extent of this authority. The difference is solely as to its depositaries and administrators.

Congregationalism asserts that the authority is committed to the great body of the faithful, that is, to the brotherhood. This view is plausible, and seems to be countenanced to some extent by the opinions and practices of some individuals or portions of the primitive Church. But the great body of the Church has never accepted it in the purely Congregational sense. There may have been individuals who have contended for it; there may have been, here and there, a local congregation that virtually practised on it; but it was the exception, not the rule ; an irregularity, an anomaly, not the established order.
Moreover, this view labors under several serious practical difficulties. The faithful must be the depositaries of this authority as individuals, or as a body corporate. If as individuals, does each individual possess it in all its plenitude ? If so, you have absolute individualism, and, therefore, no ecclesiastical authority at all. Is it lodged with the majority ? Then you transfer to the Church what Dorrism is in politics, and enable any number of individuals, however disorderly, if they are the majority, to rule, and to administer the authority as they please; and, moreover, as we have elsewhere said, you have no criterion by which to distinguish between the acts of the faithful, and those of others professing to speak in their name.
If you assume that they are intrusted with this authority only in their corporate capacity, that is, as one single corporate body, how will you bring together the whole body, which at this moment are so many millions, and enable them to act as a single corporation, with an official voice, through an official organ ?

If you assume the faithful to be divided into separate congregations, and that each is an independent polity, possessing in itself the right to claim and exercise all the prerogatives of the Church of Christ, we demand the principle of this division. May any number of individuals, at their own pleasure, come together and resolve themselves into a Christian congregation, and, therefore, into a Church of Christ ? Will such congregation be a true Church ? If so, you must treat it as a Church, and extend to it all the courtesy, civility, fellowship, due from one Christian congregation to another. Suppose, then, a number of real infidels should come together, and resolve themselves into a Christian Church, and their infidelity to be Christianity, you must extend your fellowship to them ; for yon have no right to judge them. A case bearing some analogy to this has actually occurred in our own neighbourhood. We know a Congregational Church whose minister is to all intents and purposes an unbeliever, and yet that Church claims the fellowship of sister Congregational Churches, and our Unitarian friends so interpret Congregationalism that they feel that they cannot disown either the Church or its minister.

If you say, that there must be some authority outside of the congregation competent to decide whether it be or be not a Christian Church, you depart from Congregationalism. But assume such authority, — Where is it ? The practice is, we believe, for the Churches already existing in the neighbourhood, officially to recognize the new congregation. Whence the right of the neighbouring Churches to do this ? Is the new Church, when recognized, a true Church ? If so, according to your own principles, it is independent, and possesses plenary powers as the Church of Christ. On what ground, then, in case it becomes heretical, can you so far judge it as to withdraw fellowship from it ? On what ground, moreover, does this recognition by neighbouring Churches introduce the new congregation into the family of Christian Churches ? They must themselves have been recognized by other Churches, and these by others still; and where will you stop this side of Churches founded by the Apostles themselves ? The Churches recognizing must themselves be apostolic, or their recognition is good for nothing. How establish this apostolic character, without establishing their lineal descent from apostolic Churches ? Congregationalism, then, as well as Episcopacy, is obliged to resort to APOSTOLICAL SUCCESSION.

In the great questions concerning the Church, and the regularity of Protestant Churches, we have here, so far as we can see, all the difficulties usually alleged against Episcopacy, and, if the Protestant Episcopal Church cannot make out the regular succession of her bishops, still less can Congregationalism make out the regular succession of Congregational Churches. Partial as our education has made us to Congregationalism, we should be loath to undertake its defence on any ground whatever. For the same reason, if for no other, that we reject the doctrine of the absolute sovereignty of the people, would we reject the sovereignty of the brotherhood. We would much rather — if it must come to this — be under one tyrant than many. Moreover, we cannot conceive of a Church with the authority lodged in the brotherhood. The minister, if commissioned by the congregation, is not placed by the Holy Ghost over it, is not immediately accountable to Christ, but mediately, through the very body over which he is nominally an overseer. How can I rebuke, warn, reprove, discipline, teach with authority, the very body from which I derive my authority, and which may revoke it at will ? Make your clergyman absolutely dependent on his congregation, receiving his authority from it, and accountable to it for his doctrines, and for the manner in which he discharges his duty, and you deprive him of all authority as the minister of God.    His congregation are his masters, his critics, his judges; and every time he preaches, he is virtually on trial, and the question is, whether his congregation shall acquit him or condemn him, continue him in his pulpit, or dismiss him, and send him forth to the world branded with their disapprobation. The evils of Congregationalism glare upon us from all sides, and deeply are they felt by not a few of our brethren ; and sorry are we to find Bishop Hopkins and his brother Evangelicals taking a ground, we were about to say, even below that of our old-fashioned Congregationalism. Practically, the Congregational minister ceases, in New England, to be the minister of Christ to the congregation. He is no longer a bishop, or overseer, placed by the Holy Ghost over the congregation. The congregation is his overseer ; and in cases not a few, he becomes, is forced to become, or leave his charge, the mere tool of one or two ignorant, conceited, perhaps worldly-minded, but wealthy and influential members of his flock, or of some four or five good sisters, who indemnify themselves for their abstinence from the pleasures of the world, by getting up and managing all sorts of societies for the general and particular supervision of the affairs of their neighbours. Woe to the poor man, if he refuse to cooperate with the restless, the gossiping, the fanatical members of his congregation, ready to do any thing and every thing but lead "quiet and peaceable lives, in all godliness and honesty." He must be foremost in their daily and nightly religious and philanthropic dissipation, or else, alas! it will be instantly discovered that he is an unfaithful minister of Christ, unadapted to the wants of his congregation ; and, broken in health, broken in spirit, poor and friendless, with a wife and children, it may be, to provide for, must be dismissed in disgrace, to make way for another,— a dapper little man, right from the seminary, and with just as little religion in his heart, as brains in his head.

No, we have had enough of Congregationalism. Not a few, if we may judge from the letters we receive, of our ablest and best Congregational divines are fully satisfied of the utter impracticability of the Congregational scheme. It has run itself out, and we are sorry to see the war that is raging against Episcopacy. We may not, indeed, be able to accept the Anglican Church, or her American daughter, as the Holy Catholic Apostolic Church ; but she has departed less from the apostolic model than the other Protestant communions. The lay delegation admitted by the Protestant Episcopal Church of this country, led on by her Duers, already begins to show the evil one day to be expected from it; and the original cause of her separation from the rest of the Catholic Church, and the Protestant elements she originally accepted to conciliate the Protestant party, are now showing themselves, by destroying the simplicity of her speech, compelling her to speak with a double tongue, and rending her bosom with, we fear, an invincible dualism ; but still she retains many of the essential features of the Catholic Church, and, if we are to unite on any ground out of the Roman communion, she must be the nucleus of union for all that portion of Protestantdom which speaks the English tongue. She has it in her power, if she will but free herself from her Protestant elements, bring out her Catholic elements, — elements which have survived the Goths and Vandals,— in their truth and consistency, to perform no mean part in recalling us all to the unity of Christendom, to the unity of the Church, and enabling us of the Anglo-Saxon race to feel that the term of our banishment has expired, and that we may henceforth dwell in the home of our fathers.