Bishop Grafton on Bishop Peterkin’s “Open Letter” (1911)

To the Editor of The Living Church:[1]

MY good brother, Bishop Peterkin, is in favor of retaining the word Protestant in our Church title because it involves a denial of the Real Presence in the Eucharist, the Sacrament of the Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, and Sacramental Confession. These doctrines, he holds are Roman errors, repudiated by our Reformers, and not in the Prayer Book. On the other hand, many conservative Churchmen of different schools object to the term “Protestant” because it has come to mean a rejection of authority, of the plenary inspiration of Holy Scripture, of the supernatural generally, and miracles. It echoes the rationalizing spirit of the day, tends to a denial of the Deity of Christ, of the Virgin Birth of Christ, of the Resurrection of the body.

Modern Protestantism stands, therefore, for a decadent Christianity. As conservative and evangelical Churchmen we wish, therefore, to get rid of the title.

In the interests of peace, I would point out that what we Churchmen agree in believing, is not the Roman doctrine but one which is largely repudiated by Protestant sectarianism. We believe in the Real Presence. But our belief does not involve the Roman doctrine of Transubstantiation. Rome makes the manner of the change wrought by the consecration a dogma. We do not pretend to define the manner, but leave it a mystery. The Presence is after a heavenly and spiritual manner, ineffable and sacramental, and not in accordance with natural laws. Sectarian Protestantism denies the Real Presence and regards the Communion as a mere commemoration service. The word Protestant is thus associated with Zwinglianism. This is not the doctrine of the Prayer Book or of our reformers. Do we wish to be Zwinglianists? Shall we not get rid of a title that so compromises us?

Then as to the “Sacrifice of the Mass.” We do not hold that the Eucharist is a repetition or an addition to the work of the Cross. We do believe it is a sacrifice or offering made to God. Thus our Prayer Book bids the priest say, “these thy Holy Gifts which we now offer unto Thee.” Our American Prayer Book also calls the holy table an altar, and an altar implies sacrifice. Now our Lord’s Sacrifice had three parts to it. He freely offered Himself in the Upper Chamber. He offered Himself with the shedding of Blood on the Cross. He presented Himself as the Lamb slain before the Eternal Father in heaven. In the Eucharist we commemorate the voluntary offering of Himself. We make an unbloody and symbolical memorial of His death on Calvary, and plead, in union with our ascended Lord, the all-sufficient merits of His sacrifice. But in Protestant sectarian meeting-houses there are no alters, for they have no sacrifice to offer. Protestantism thus denies the existence of a form of worship which is essential to our Church. Ought we not to unite in repudiating a title which denies what our Church and our Prayer Book teach?

Again, then, as to “Eucharistic Adoration.” We Catholics do not adore the elements. Why not take our word as brother Christians for it? If we knelt down in worship before Christ when visible, we could not rightly be accused of worshipping His dress. Now our acts of worship are not paid to the elements, which are like the veils of His Human Body, nor to His Human Body apart from His Soul, nor to His Soul apart from His Divinity, nor to His Divinity apart from His Divine Person. His Divine Person is the object to which our adoration is paid.

He does not move from the right hand of Power, but abiding in His Spiritual Body the Church, makes Himself manifest within it, even as we believe that, without moving, He appeared to Saul on the roadway to Damascus. Our acts of worship, being directed to the Person of the Son of God, cannot be censured as idolatry, or Romanism, or as denied by our Prayer Book.

The worship of God enters largely into our Communion. On entering the church, which is God’s covenanted meeting place, we kneel down and recognize His Presence, but do not worship the building. Protestantism does not do this. It does not believe in the doctrine of holy or consecrated places or things. It regards the Communion elements as simply unchanged bread and wine. It received them sitting in its pews, with the bread and wine passed around on a waiter. Why, out of fear that our Eucharistic Adoration means something we repudiate, do you wish to retain the term Protestant, which implies something Churchmen of all schools abhor?

“Sacramental Confession” is, I know, a bugbear. It cannot however be denied that provision is made in the Prayer Book for confession before God in the presence of a priest, and a form of absolution given for the priest to pronounce. When, by whom, or how often, it is to be resorted to, are too large questions for present treatment. But all of the Catholic school recognize that it is not obligatory—as Rome teaches—but voluntary. It is a prerogative of priesthood and the right of the laity to use it as they please. It is an ancient mark of the Apostolic Catholic Churches. To deny it, by the use of the term Protestant, is to disparage our own heritage. Our Church certainly holds that her priests have power to declare and pronounce to penitents, the absolution and remission of their sins. This, sectarianism denies. Why then adopt a name which rejects what we Prayer Book Churchmen hold?

Let all Churchmen try to draw together. Each school needs the others. They are, when charitably understood, complementary, not contradictory. Much of all our differences lies in words. It is largely through verbal misunderstandings that we are kept apart. Thank God, however, theology is not religion, and it is religion that makes us all of one heart.

C. C. Fond du Lac.


[1] The Living Church, October 14, 1911, pp. 813-814. This letter responds to Bishop George W. Peterkin’s open letter (September 30, 1911, pp. 744-745) on the shared “distrust of Catholic advance which so generally characterizes Virginians.” Peterkin was the first Bishop of West Virginia, serving from 1878 to 1902.

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Filed under Anglo-Catholicism, Bibliography, Book of Common Prayer, Episcopal Church history, Liturgy

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