Reminiscences, by Charles Chapman Grafton (1903)

To the Editor of The Living Church: [1]

THE Catholic party has in the course of its eventful history made its mistakes. It has, however, never been unwilling to recognize them when kindly pointed out by friend or foe. Our cause has been too great not to be able to bear criticism, and too precious not to be willing to avail ourselves of it.

Having for more than fifty years been closely identified with it in America and England, let me, with the open acknowledgment of my own blunders and inferiority to many of my juniors, give your readers the result of some of my observations and experience.

The Tractarian movement under its earliest leaders was one of notably great learning and holiness. No one could be with such men as Pusey, Keble, Marriott, or Carter but felt he was in the presence of saints. But in its earlier manifestations the movement was largely academical. It touched mostly the intellectual, the scholars, the refined. But it did not reach the masses. Then a day came when an intense missionary spirit was kindled and Catholics began that wonderful work among the poor in the East of London of which Charles Lowder and Mackonochie were such notable leaders. Along with this popular missionary work Ritual began to be more strikingly developed than it had previously been.

There was always from the beginning a class of the Tractarians who devoted themselves to the study of the ancient liturgies, architecture, and ceremonial. The Cambridge-Camden Ecclesiological Society took in this department the lead. Much had been done in the improvement of the interior of the old churches. All Saints’, Margaret Street, had been built and was looked on as a sort of Catholic Mecca. But in the later fifties and early sixties there was a much greater ceremonial development. The common folk could not read the learned treatises which established the continuity of the English Church with the past, or the validity of her orders, or the sacramental life she possessed. It had to be brought home to them by ritual as an object lesson.

And so, based upon the ornaments rubric which stood at the beginning of the office of Morning Prayer, the practical missionaries of that day revived the vestments and lights and ceremonial that the English Church by this rubric claimed as her inheritance. Whenever it was tried along with faithful parish work, and with the deep evangelical spirit of the early pioneers, great marvels were wrought and the English Church began to regain its hold on the masses, especially the poor.

But now came a trial. The Low Church party were held in the grip of their inherited Calvinistic or Puritan theology. They were intense partisans and had succeeded in getting a worldly Prime Minister to fill most of the Bishoprics with Low Churchmen. They saw, and would see, nothing in the Tractarian movement but an approach to Rome. It was undoing the work of the blessed Reformers. It was reestablishing priestcraft and was a retrogression to the Dark Ages. And by inflammatory appeals to the Englishman’s inherited prejudices against Rome they lashed the popular mind into a white heat of hatred and distrust. The poor Tractarians were seeking like Wesley to save souls. They were working for Christ and were trying to develop a higher standard of holiness. They were setting the example in the midst of a worldly age, of entire consecration and self-sacrifice. Their watchword was the Bible and the Prayer Book; the Bible the Word of God, the Prayer Book its interpreter. But it did not matter. The mark of the scarlet woman was on them. So the Bishops thundered opposingly in their charges, and the world’s great organ, the “London Times,” never ceased to rage against them. Under the stress some were driven, as Newman had been before, to Rome. But in the sixties and there along, there were not so many secessions, save of inferior persons and some fashionables whom Manning, the great apostle to the “Genteels,” captivated.

But in the development of their onward ritual movement some of our good men made a grievous tactical blunder. They went on too fast in their ritual development. Mackonochie, to whom all honor belongs for his noble, self-sacrificing life, “felt,” as Canon Woodford, afterward Bishop of Ely, said to me—“the pulse of his congregation but not of the Church. The Church was ready for an advance on the ritual of All Saints’, but was not prepared for what Fr. Mackonochie introduced.”

Some of us here in America have made the same mistake. We have thought what it was possible to do in our own parishes and have not considered whether we might not be endangering the whole cause. It requires much judgment so to advance as to draw more with us than we drive back. Mackonochie and his friends went ahead and developed a ritual that at the time startled the Church. It might have succeeded if his friends had not asserted, and in seemingly defiant tones, that this was the legal ritual; that it was the legal ritual authorized by the rubric, the legal ritual that all true Churchmen were bound to obey.

It was this attitude that created the opposing Church Association. I always thought we were partly to blame for its existence. For this attitude simply made the Low Churchmen mad. And no wonder. It was as much as saying, nolens volens, you, too, have got to wear all these abominable and popish vestments. So, as fighting for their very existence, the Church Association arose and appealed to the Law.

Now the Ritualists were able and learned men, and especially skilled in the history of the Prayer Book, but they were Englishmen, and insular and obstinate at that. The ornaments rubric declared that vestments and altar lights and incense were legal. Our friends started in with that conviction. I remember in the fifties, being then a student of law at Harvard, examining the question and coming to the same conclusion some great English lawyers subsequently did. I believed the six points were part of our lawful heritage.

But our English friends made one mistake. They were Englishmen, and had a great belief that justice would be rendered in their courts of law. What was law would of course be decided to be law. Now courts of last resort in all countries, in France, in the United States, and in England, when political or religious questions are involved, do not decide according to law. They have not done so since the days of Pontius Pilate. These courts are governed by policy. Some have a theory that, being courts of last resort, they may usurp legislative functions, but it is scarcely defensible. Anyway, so it turned out in England. The Privy Council, whose judges are selected, was packed with persons known, like the Presbyterian Judge Collins, to be of a hostile mind. The notorious Lord Westbury was another member. The decision in one instance was so in violation of justice, that one of its members, Chief Baron Kelly, publicly proclaimed it was a decision governed by policy. The decisions became contradictory and were afterwards riddled by experts. But we Ritualists were to blame for not knowing, or not believing when told, that the decisions were bound to be not according to law, but to public opinion.

The Ritualists played the game badly. They ought to have deferred a legal contest till they were stronger. But they did not accept the cautions given them by Pusey and older men. They should have acted more unitedly, and advanced more together, and not have joined horns in legal battle till they had got a public moral backing of some weight behind them. Well! we got beaten in the English Law Courts, and badly beaten, and for nigh twenty years the movement sagged and suffered. Then came the deliverance.

The (Low) Church Association had wisely, up to this time, picked out for attack churches whose Rectors had little standing. They attacked, for instance, Purchas of Brighton, who was a florid Ritualist, and then attacked a precocious young Ritualist whose name was Ridsdale. The Church Union was forced into their defense. The old Tractarian leaders among themselves regretted the unwisdom of these men, but they could not help themselves. These advanced Ritualists, not caring for others, threw the match into the powder magazine. The Church Association won their triumph over them. But, flushed by success, at last the Church Association ventured to attack the saintly Bishop of Lincoln, Dr. King. Then Archbishop Benson took the matter into his own hands, and sweeping away the Privy Council’s authority and decisions, gave a judgment which allowed of a use of lights and vestments and the mixed chalice, and so gave new life to a beaten cause.

Upon this, our friends acted with their usual unwisdom. In London a few, without any reference to their Bishop, with whom as Catholics they knew the jus liturgicum resides, began to introduce new and additional services. One had Benediction, one the saying of the Rosary, another the Roman offices for Holy Week. They began to have a wild time generally. We are Catholics and believe no national Church can contradict the utterances of undivided Christendom. But has any priest a right to introduce any service in addition to those in the Prayer Book without at least the tacit assent of the Ordinary? But our friends, shouting out, “Catholicity, not Anglicanism,” went their own way. Not a little that frightened the public was the unwise negotiation with Rome. No wonder the English public went mad. No wonder a Kensit arose. No wonder the Archbishops decided against the use of incense. No wonder that the British Parliament has brought in a new drastic Church Discipline Bill. Our extremists in England have just steered their ship on the rocks.

God, who had delivered the people again, and again, may allow and overrule all this to a readjustment of the relations of the Church and State. But we Ritualists have chiefly to blame ourselves for the disaster.

The mischief is done, in England. The question for us in America is, Shall we follow the lead of those who have brought such disaster upon the English Church?

C. C. Fond du Lac.


[1] The Living Church, May 9, 1903; reprinted in Works, Vol. 7, pp. 205-212.

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