St. Nicholas’ Russian Cathedral, 15 East Ninety-seventh St.
—New York City.—
To His Grace the Most Rev. J. R. Vilatte, D. D. Old Catholic Archbishop of America:
Your Grace: I have examined and read with much pleasure the articles in your official paper, “The American Old Catholic.” I beg to thank you for your courtesy in sending me the same and also for the truths expressed therein.
I know of few more heroic Bishops in the history of the Christian Church than your grace. Dark clouds have hung heavily over you and your work; but remember, the darkest cloud that ever lowered was that which shrouded the soul of the Redeemer of mankind when it passed from the victory upon earth to accomplish the equally great victory in the place of departed spirits.
I remember well the funeral of Chief Justice Chase of the U. S. Supreme Court. Two circumstances firmly rivet the occasion in my mind: First, he was one of our great judicial heroes of the Civil War times; second, while his burial service was held in St. George’s Protestant Episcopal Church, New York City, it was the Rev. Dr John Hall, a Presbyterian minister, who preached the funeral sermon. Of course the whole affair was incongruous to me—Presbyterianism and Episcopalianism—ecclesiastical hotchpotch—yet what I heard from the lips of the very distinguished Presbyterian clergyman in reference to Chief Justice Chase is perfectly true of you, your Grace. He said: “Around high trees and mountain-tops the fiercest storms do beat. “The late Bishop Grafton and his Episcopal satellites; Rome and her fulminations; the Devil with his arrows of poverty and misrepresentations; all of these have done their worst. You, like another great Bishop of the past, have bowed your head until the storm went by. Thank God for such an Archbishop as J R. Vilatte. Saint Athanasius was banished seven times. You, in free United States, cannot be civilly touched or banished, but if you were in a Latin country, where the chains of ecclesiasticism and those of the State were interwoven and in vigor, God have mercy upon your poor human frame and soul!
Your Grace, I look upon you as one whose work can alone regenerate Western Roman and Anglican Christianity. The Holy Orthodox Catholic Apostolic Church of the East, now happily also in the West, of which I am an humble priest, will be, no doubt, the rallying point of convergence for all Christian bodies, like as she is now here in our midst, the witness of “the Faith once-for-all delivered to the saints.” The Anglican Church, “from which” as Cardinal Newman said when he belonged to her communion, “surrounding nations lit their lamps,” is so afflicted with Protestantism that she has forgotten, in too many instances, her Catholic heritage. I love Anglicans. Among them are theological giants. The Anglican Church is impregnated with saintly virtues. Such broad minded priests as Daniel I. Odell and J. Andrew Harris of Philadelphia, J. Howard Mellish, T. J. Lacey of Long Island, Karl Reiland, W. M. Greer and W. T. Manning of New York; such Bishops as Darlington of Harrisburg, Greer of New York and Adams of Boston—representing hundreds more on this side of the Atlantic as ecclesiastics not forgetting such great laymen as Chancellor Henry Budd of Pennsylvania, and ex-Chancellor Price of the same State, Mr. Gardiner of Gardiner, Maine, and A. A. Mitchell of New York, have within them, irrespective of grades of churchmanship, the very spirit of Catholicity and the key, on the Anglican side, to Church unity. But, alas! the isolation of the Anglican Communion within the domineering Western ancient Patriarchate of Rome, is pitiful. She cannot play “good Lord, good Devil.” She must either hold to Protestantism and despise Romanism, or she must come out from the midst of this ecclesiastical fog and shine in her true light as a daughter of the Mother Church of Christendom the Holy Orthodox Church of the East. Hers is a special role and nature for the benefit of all the Churches of Christendom. All look to her as a Mother.
The Anglican Church, your Grace, can never reform Rome. She can never coerce the great Protestant bodies to accept her as a mother. Her position is unique. She is a beautiful married woman but not child-bearing. Her breasts are full, but the paps have no fecundating milk. She will leave no heritage excepting that of a magnificent personal record of biblical strictures such as this and others I could quote: “Stand by thyself, come not nigh me, for I am holier than thou.” (Isaiah lv-5).
Your grace, I well remember 1906 A. D., when you and the Russian Archbishop Tikhon, the Very Rev. Dean A. A. Hotovitzky and I met in the Russian Archiepiscopal Palace in New York City. That was a solemn and sacred moment. You then and there reiterated your Orthodox principles, which were one and the same as held by the Russian and all other portions of the Holy Orthodox Church. As far as dogmas were concerned, you were one with us, of the Eastern Church then; and from your present attitude, you are the same faithful son of Orthodoxy today. The document which you signed on that occasion is still extant.
There is, of course, no question as to the validity and regularity of your Holy Orders and Episcopate. No solid argument has been adduced by Rome or England (representing the Anglican Communion throughout the world) to overthrow your contention and pontificate. As the late Bishop Coxe of the Protestant Episcopal Church well said: “No Roman prelate in the United States has an Episcopate as valid as yours.” As far as Rome is concerned, she can only speak for Rome, and by her theory the whole world has gone mad except herself. The entire Christian Church, baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Ghost, is without spiritual guidance save that of the Vatican Curia on the “Seven Hills!” God have compassion on the poor “Successor of the Fisherman,” who poses as a so-called prisoner within the Roman cell, for whose door he himself holds the key to open and come out at will. The whole world, say they, is infidel except Rome, or schismatical, and outside the pale of redemption. Her “Treasury of superabundant merit” is a spiritual bank for her own children alone. There are no Saints outside her communion. God has no home for the rest of mankind “made in His image and after His likeness.” Holy Baptism has not conferred upon them the “Gifts of Regeneration.” They are still in the “gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity.” And yet Rome is overflowing with a devoted and self-sacrificing priesthood and laity. Her government and membership are two entirely different things. She will realize this herself before long in America.
It would be absolute madness to argue with Rome on any subject on which her heart is fixed. She is ecclesiastically insane. She still believes herself to be “Mistress of the World.” She ignores after a fashion all Holy Orders of Christendom, except those of the Holy Orthodox Greek Catholic Church. Yet within her very bosom are the valid and regular Orders of the Old Catholic Archbishop Vilatte of Chicago which she cannot gainsay on valid and regular grounds. And thus today there is within her ancient Patriarchate (“if America can be said to be within any patriarchate”) her purgated Liturgy, her Rites and Ceremonies perfect in every respect, for all those who cling to and desire the heritage of the West in contradistinction to the ways of the East under his (i.e. your Grace’s) oversight.
Your Grace, if to-day, were not a satisfied recipient of the Holy Orthodox Russian Greek Catholic Orders, I would accept from your hands Holy Orders and count them equal in all respects with those coming from Benedict XV. of Rome. And I should believe I was holding full and sufficient spiritual powers as a priest from the inbreathing of the Incarnate Lord God who said to His Apostles: “As My Father hath sent Me even so send I you. Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel.”
I am writing to your grace in all soberness of thought, and am fearless of consequences or criticism. I believe that God has raised you up within the Western Patriarchate to convert your Roman Brethren, and to give to the Anglicans that grace where anything is lacking, would, indeed advise every Anglican (cleric) to accept from your hands conditional ordination in order that neither the East nor the West may be able to gainsay the Catholic party’s ministerial orders in the day of reunion, and that the Holy Orthodox Greek Catholic Apostolic Church may raise no question as to their Doctrine, Discipline and Worship. If a priest’s blessing may be extended to a Bishop (and I believe it can, for we of the priesthood partake of sub-episcopal powers), then may the Triune God pour upon you all the effulgence of His holiness and gifts now end ever, through ages of ages. Amen.
I beg to remain, your Grace, ever faithfully and lovingly your old and sincere friend.
Ingram N. W. Irvine.
Canon of St Nicholas’ Russian Cathedral, and Priest-in-Charge of the English Department.