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THE CHURCH IN THEOLOGY AND LITERATURE.
THE rapid review of three crowded centuries, which is all that the narrowly prescribed limits of this volume have permitted, has necessarily been mainly restricted to external facts. But looking back over the course of visible events, it is not impossible for acute minds devoted to such study to trace the stream of thought and sentiment that is sometimes hidden from direct view by the overgrowth which itself has nourished.
We have seen a profound spiritual change, renewing the face of the land and leaving its indelible impress on successive generations, springing from the profoundest contemplations of God and his work of salvation through Jesus Christ, and then bringing back into thoughtful and teachable minds new questions to be solved and new discoveries of truth to be pondered. The one school of theological opinion and inquiry that can be described as characteristically American is the theology of the Great Awakening. The disciples of this school, in all its divergent branches, agree in looking back to the first Jonathan Edwards as the founder of it. Through its generations it has shown a striking sequence and continuity of intellectual and spiritual life, each generation answering questions put to it by its predecessor, while propounding new questions 375to the generation following. After the classical writings of its first founders, the most widely influential production of this school is the “Theology Explained and Defended in a Series of Sermons” of President Dwight. This had the advantage over some other systems of having been preached, and thus proved to be preachable. The “series of sermons” was that delivered to successive generations of college students at Yale at a time of prevailing skepticism, when every statement of the college pulpit was liable to sharp and not too friendly scrutiny; and it was preached with the fixed purpose of convincing and converting the young men who heard it. The audience, the occasion, and the man—a fervid Christian, and a born poet and orator—combined to produce a work of wide and enduring influence. The dynasty of the Edwardeans is continued down to the middle of the nineteenth century, and later, through different lines, ending in Emmons of Franklin, Taylor of New Haven, and Finney of Oberlin, and is represented among the living by the venerable Edwards A. Park, of Andover, who adds to that power of sustained speculative thinking in a straight line which is characteristic of the whole school, a wide learning in the whole field of theological literature, which had not been usual among his predecessors. It is a prevailing trait of this theology, born of the great revival, that it has constantly held before itself not only the question, What is truth? but also the question, How shall it be preached? It has never ceased to be a revival theology.
A bold and open breach of traditionary assumptions and habits of reasoning was made by Horace Bushnell. This was a theologian of a different type from his New England predecessors. He was of a temper little disposed to accept either methods or results as a local tradition, and 376inclined rather to prefer that which had been “hammered out on his own anvil.” And yet, while very free in manifesting his small respect for the “logicking” by syllogistic processes which had been the pride of the theological chair and even the pulpit in America, and while declining the use of current phraseologies even for the expression of current ideas, he held himself loyally subject to the canon of the Scriptures as his rule of faith, and deferential to the voice of the church catholic as uttered in the concord of testimony of holy men in all ages. Endowed with a poet’s power of intuition, uplifted by a fervid piety, uttering himself in a literary style singularly rich and melodious, it is not strange that such a man should have made large contributions to the theological thought of his own and later times. In natural theology, his discourses on “The Moral Uses of Dark Things” (1869), and his longest continuous work, on “Nature and the Supernatural” (1858), even though read rather as prose-poems than as arguments, sound distinctly new notes in the treatment of their theme. In “God in Christ” (1849), “Christ in Theology” (1851), “The Vicarious Sacrifice” (1866), and “Forgiveness and Law” (1874), and in a notable article in the “New Englander” for November, 1854, entitled “The Christian Trinity a Practical Truth,” the great topics of the Christian system were dealt with all the more effectively, in the minds of thoughtful readers in this and other lands, for cries of alarm and newspaper and pulpit impeachments of heresy that were sent forth. But that work of his which most nearly made as well as marked an epoch in American church history was the treatise of “Christian Nurture” (1847). This, with the protracted controversy that followed upon the publication of it, was a powerful influence in lifting the American church out of the rut of mere individualism that had been 377wearing deeper and deeper from the days of the Great Awakening.
Another wholesome and edifying debate was occasioned by the publications that went forth from the college and theological seminary of the German Reformed Church, situated at Mercersburg in Pennsylvania. At this institution was effected a fruitful union of American and German theology; the result was to commend to the general attention aspects of truth, philosophical, theological, and historical, not previously current among American Protestants. The book of Dr. John Williamson Nevin, entitled “The Mystical Presence: A Vindication of the Reformed or Calvinistic Doctrine of the Holy Eucharist,” revealed to the vast multitude of churches and ministers that gloried in the name of Calvinist the fact that on the most distinctive article of Calvinism they were not Calvinists at all, but Zwinglians. The enunciation of the standard doctrine of the various Presbyterian churches excited among themselves a clamor of “Heresy!” and the doctrine of Calvin was put upon trial before the Calvinists. The outcome of a discussion that extended itself far beyond the boundaries of the comparatively small and uninfluential German Reformed Church was to elevate the point of view and broaden the horizon of American students of the constitution and history of the church. Later generations of such students owe no light obligation to the fidelity and courage of Dr. Nevin, as well as to the erudition and immense productive diligence of his associate, Dr. Philip Schaff.232232 For fuller accounts of “the Mercersburg theology,” with references to the literature of the subject, see Dubbs, “The Reformed Church, German” (American Church History Series, vol. viii.), pp. 219, 220, 389-378; also, Professor E. V. Gerhart in “Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia,” pp. 1473-1475.
It is incidental to the prevailing method of instruction in theology by a course of prelections in which the teacher 378reads to his class in detail his own original summa theologiae, that the American press has been prolific of ponderous volumes of systematic divinity. Among the more notable of these systems are those of Leonard Woods (in five volumes) and of Enoch Pond; of the two Drs. Hodge, father and son; of Robert J. Breckinridge and James H. Thornwell and Robert L. Dabney; and the “Systematic Theology” of a much younger man, Dr. Augustus H. Strong, of Rochester Seminary, which has won for itself very unusual and wide respect. Exceptional for ability, as well as for its originality of conception, is “The Republic of God: An Institute of Theology,” by Elisha Mulford, a disciple of Maurice and of the realist philosophy, the thought of whose whole life is contained in this and his kindred work on “The Nation.”
How great is the debt which the church owes to its heretics is frequently illustrated in the progress of Christianity in America. If it had not been for the Unitarian defection in New England, and for the attacks from Germany upon the historicity of the gospels, the theologians of America might to this day have been engrossed in “threshing old straw” in endless debates on “fixed fate, free will, foreknowledge absolute.” The exigencies of controversy forced the study of the original documents of the church. From his entrance upon his professorship at Andover, in 1810, the eager enthusiasm of Moses Stuart made him the father of exegetical science not only for America, but for all the English-speaking countries. His not less eminent pupil and associate, Edward Robinson, later of the Union Seminary, New York, created out of nothing the study of biblical geography. Associating with himself the most accomplished living Arabist, Eli Smith, of the American mission at Beirut, he made those 379“Biblical Researches in Palestine” which have been the foundation on which all later explorers have built. Another American missionary, Dr. W. M. Thomson, has given the most valuable popular exposition of the same subject in his volumes on “The Land and the Book.” With the exception of Dr. Henry Clay Trumbull in his determination of the site of Kadesh-barnea, the American successors to Robinson in the original exploration of the Bible lands have made few additions to our knowledge. But in the department of biblical archaeology the work of Drs. Ward, Peters, and Hilprecht in the mounds of Babylonia, and of Mr. Bliss in Palestine, has added not a little to the credit of the American church against the heavy balance which we owe to the scholarship of Europe.
Monumental works in lexicography have been produced by Dr. Thayer, of Cambridge, on New Testament Greek; by Professor Francis Brown, of New York, in conjunction with Canon Driver, of Oxford, on the languages of the Old Testament; and by Dr. Sophocles, of Cambridge, on the Byzantine Greek.
In the work of the textual criticism of the Scriptures, notwithstanding its remoteness from the manuscript sources of study, America has furnished two names that are held in honor throughout the learned world: among the recent dead, Ezra Abbot, of Cambridge, universally beloved and lamented; and among the living, Caspar Rene Gregory, successor to the labors and the fame of Tischendorf. A third name is that of the late Dr. Isaac H. Hall, the successful collator of Syriac New Testament manuscripts.
In those studies of the higher criticism which at the present day are absorbing so much of the attention of biblical scholars, and the progress of which is watched with reasonable anxiety for their bearing on that dogma of the absolute inerrancy of the canonical Scriptures which 380has so commonly been postulated as the foundation of Protestant systems of revealed theology, the American church has taken eager interest. An eminent, and in some respects the foremost, place among the leaders in America of these investigations into the substructure, if not of the Christian faith, at least of the work of the system-builders, is held by Professor W. H. Green, of Princeton, whose painstaking essays in the higher criticism have done much to stimulate the studies of younger men who have come out at conclusions different from his own. The works of Professors Briggs, of Union Seminary, and Henry P. Smith, of Lane Seminary, have had the invaluable advantage of being commended to public attention by ecclesiastical processes and debates. The two volumes of Professor Bacon, of Yale, have been recognized by the foremost scholars of Great Britain and Germany as containing original contributions toward the solution of the problem of Pentateuchal analysis. The intricate critical questions presented by the Book of Judges have been handled with supreme ability by Professor Moore, of Andover, in his commentary on that book. A desideratum in biblical literature has been well supplied by Professor Bissell, of Hartford, in a work on the Old Testament Apocrypha. But the magnum opus of American biblical scholarship, associating with itself the best learning and ability of other nations, is the publication, under the direction of Professor Haupt, of Baltimore, of a critical text of the entire Scriptures in the original languages, with new translations and notes, for the use of scholars.
The undeniably grave theological difficulties occasioned by the results of critical study have given rise to a novel dogma concerning the Scriptures, which, if it may justly be claimed as a product of the Princeton Seminary, would seem to discredit the modest boast of the venerated Dr. 381Charles Hodge, that “Princeton has never originated a new idea.” It consists in the hypothesis of an “original autograph” of the Scriptures, the precise contents of which are now undiscoverable, but which differed from any existing text in being absolutely free from error of any kind. The hypothesis has no small advantage in this, that if it is not susceptible of proof, it is equally secure from refutation. If not practically useful, it is at least novel, and on this ground entitled to mention in recounting the contributions of the American church to theology at a really perilous point in the progress of biblical study.
The field of church history, aside from local and sectarian histories, was late in being invaded by American theologians. For many generations the theology of America was distinctly unhistorical, speculative, and provincial. But a change in this respect was inevitably sure to come. The strong propensity of the national mind toward historical studies is illustrated by the large proportion of historical works among the masterpieces of our literature, whether in prose or in verse. It would seem as if our conscious poverty in historical monuments and traditions had engendered an eager hunger for history. No travelers in ancient lands are such enthusiasts in seeking the monuments of remote ages as those whose homes are in regions not two generations removed from the prehistoric wilderness. It was certain that as soon as theology should begin to be taught to American students in its relation to the history of the kingdom of Christ, the charm of this method would be keenly felt.
We may assume the date of 1853 as an epoch from which to date this new era of theological study. It was in that year that the gifted, learned, and inspiring teacher, Henry Boynton Smith, was transferred from the chair of 382 history in Union Theological Seminary, New York, to the chair of systematic theology. Through his premature and most lamented death the church has failed of receiving that system of doctrine which had been hoped for at his hands. But the historic spirit which characterized him has ever since been characteristic of that seminary. It is illustrative of the changed tone of theologizing that after the death of Professor Smith, in the reorganization of the faculty of that important institution, it was manned in the three chief departments, exegetical, dogmatic, and practical, by men whose eminent distinction was in the line of church history. The names of Hitchcock, Schaff, and Shedd cannot be mentioned without bringing to mind some of the most valuable gifts that America has made to the literature of the universal church. If to these we add the names of George Park Fisher, of Yale, and Bishop Hurst, and Alexander V. G. Allen, of Cambridge, author of “The Continuity of Christian Thought,” and Henry Charles Lea, of Philadelphia, we have already vindicated for American scholarship a high place in this department of Christian literature.
In practical theology the productiveness of the American church in the matter of sermons has been so copious that even for the briefest mention some narrow rule of exclusion must be followed. There is no doubt that in a multitude of cases the noblest utterances of the American pulpit, being unwritten, have never come into literature, but have survived for a time as a glowing memory, and then a fading tradition. The statement applies to many of the most famous revival preachers; and in consequence of a prevalent prejudice against the writing of sermons, it applies especially to the great Methodist and Baptist preachers, whose representation on the shelves of libraries is most 383disproportionate to their influence on the course of the kingdom of Christ. Of other sermons,—and good sermons,—printed and published, many have had an influence almost as restricted and as evanescent as the utterances of the pulpit improvisator. If we confine ourselves to those sermons that have survived their generation or won attention beyond the limits of local interest or of sectarian fellowship, the list will not be unmanageably long.
In the early years of the nineteenth century the Unitarian pulpits of Boston were adorned with every literary grace known to the rhetoric of that period. The luster of Channing’s fame has outshone and outlasted that of his associates; and yet these were stars of hardly less magnitude. The two Wares, father and son, the younger Buckminster, whose singular power as a preacher was known not only to wondering hearers, but to readers on both sides of the ocean, Gannett and Dewey—these were among them; and, in the next generation, Henry W. Bellows, Thomas Starr King, and James Freeman Clarke. No body of clergy of like size was ever so resplendent with talents and accomplishments. The names alone of those who left the Unitarian pulpit for a literary or political career—Sparks, Everett, Bancroft, Emerson, Ripley, Palfrey, Upham, among them—are a constellation by themselves.
To the merely literary critic those earnest preachers, such as Lyman and Edward Beecher, Griffin, Sereno Dwight, Wayland, and Kirk, who felt called of God to withstand, in Boston, this splendid array of not less earnest men, were clearly inferior to their antagonists. But they were successful.
A few years later, the preeminent American writer of sermons to be read and pondered in every part of the world was Horace Bushnell; as the great popular preacher, 384whose words, caught burning from his lips, rolled around the world in a perpetual stream, was Henry Ward Beecher. Widely different from either of these, and yet in an honorable sense successor to the fame of both, was Phillips Brooks, of all American preachers most widely beloved and honored in all parts of the church.
Of living preachers whose sermons have already attained a place of honor in libraries at home and abroad, the name of Bishop F. D. Huntington stands among the foremost; and those who have been charmed by the brilliant rhetoric and instructed from the copious learning of his college classmate, Dr. Richard S. Storrs, must feel it a wrong done to our national literature that these gifts should be chiefly known to the reading public only by occasional discourses and by two valuable studies in religious history instead of by volumes of sermons. Perhaps no American pulpits have to-day a wider hearing beyond the sea than two that stand within hearing distance of each other on New Haven Green, occupied by Theodore T. Munger and Newman Smyth. The pulpit of Plymouth Church, Brooklyn, has not ceased, since the accession of Lyman Abbott, to wield a wide and weighty influence,—less wide, but in some respects more weighty, than in the days of his famous predecessor,—by reason of a well-deserved reputation for biblical learning and insight, and for candor and wisdom in applying Scriptural principles to the solution of current questions.
The early American theology was, as we have seen, a rhetorical and not a merely scholastic theology—a theology to be preached.233233 See above, p. 375. In like manner, the American pulpit in those days was distinctly theological, like a professor’s chair. One who studies with care the pulpit of to-day, in those volumes that seem to command the widest and most enduring attention, will find that it is to a large extent apologetic, addressing itself to the abating of doubts and objections to the Christian system, or, recognizing the existing doubts, urging the religious duties that are nevertheless incumbent on the doubting mind. It has ceased to assume the substantial soundness of the hearer in the main principles of orthodox opinion, and regards him as one to be held to the church by attraction, persuasion, or argument. The result of this attitude of the preacher is to make the pulpit studiously, and even eagerly, attractive and interesting. This virtue has its corresponding fault. The American preacher of to-day is little in danger of being dull; his peril lies at the other extreme. His temptation is rather to the feebleness of extravagant statement, and to an overstrained and theatric rhetoric such as some persons find so attractive in the discourses of Dr. Talmage, and others find repulsive and intolerable.
A direction in which the literature of practical theology in America is sure to expand itself in the immediate future is indicated in the title of a recent work of that versatile and useful writer, Dr. Washington Gladden, “Applied Christianity.” The salutary conviction that political economy cannot be relied on by itself to adjust all the intricate relations of men under modern conditions of life, that the ethical questions that arise are not going to solve themselves automatically by the law of demand and supply, that the gospel and the church and the Spirit of Christ have somewhat to do in the matter, has been settling itself deeply into the minds of Christian believers. The impression that the questions between labor and capital, between sordid poverty and overgrown wealth, were old-world questions, of which we of the New World are relieved, is effectually dispelled. Thus far there is not much of history to be written under this head, but somewhat of prophecy. 386It is now understood, and felt in the conscience, that these questions are for every Christian to consider, and for those undertaking the cure of souls to make the subject of their faithful, laborious professional study. The founding of professorships of social ethics in the theological seminaries must lead to important and speedy results in the efficiency of churches and pastors in dealing with this difficult class of problems.234234 The program of Yale Divinity School for 1896-97 announces among the “required studies in senior year” lectures “on some important problems of American life, such as Socialism, Communism, and Anarchism; Races in the United States; Immigration; the Modern City; the Wage System; the Relations of Employer and Employed; Social Classes; the Causes, Prevention, and Punishment of Crime; and University Settlements.” But whatever advances shall be made in the future, no small part of the impulse toward them will be recognized as coming from, or rather through, the inspiring and most Christian humanitarian writings and the personal influence and example of Edward Everett Hale.
In one noble department of religious literature, the liturgical, the record of the American church is meager. The reaction among the early colonists and many of the later settlers against forms of worship imposed by political authority was violent. Seeking for a logical basis, it planted itself on the assumption that no form (unless an improvised form) is permitted in public worship, except such as are sanctioned by express word of Scripture. In their sturdy resolution to throw off and break up the yoke, which neither they nor their fathers had been able to bear, of ordinances and traditions complicated with not a little of debilitating superstition, the extreme Puritans of England and Scotland rejected the whole system of holy days in the Christian year, including the authentic anniversaries of Passover and Pentecost, and discontinued the use of religious ceremonies at marriages and funerals.235235 Williston Walker, “The Congregationalists,” pp. 245, 246. 387The only liturgical compositions that have come down to us from the first generations are the various attempts, in various degrees of harshness and rudeness, at the versification of psalms and other Scriptures for singing. The emancipation of the church from its bondage to an artificial dogma came, as we have already seen, with the Great Awakening and the introduction of Watts’s “Psalms of David, Imitated in the Language of the New Testament.”236236 See above, pp. 182-184. After the Revolution, at the request of the General Association of Connecticut and the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, Timothy Dwight completed the work of Watts by versifying a few omitted psalms,237237 The only relic of this work that survives in common use is the immortal lyric, “I love thy kingdom, Lord,” founded on a motif in the one hundred and thirty-seventh psalm. This, with Doddridge’s hymn, “My God, and is thy table spread?” continued for a long time to be the most important church hymn and eucharistic hymn in the English language. We should not perhaps have looked for the gift of them to two Congregationalist ministers, one in New England and the other in old England. There is no such illustration of the spiritual unity of “the holy catholic church, the fellowship of the holy,” as is presented in a modern hymn-book. and added a brief selection of hymns, chiefly in the grave and solemn Scriptural style of Watts and Doddridge. Then followed, in successive tides, from England, the copious hymnody of the Methodist revival, both Calvinist and Wesleyan, of the Evangelical revival, and now at last of the Oxford revival, with its affluence of translations from the ancient hymnists, as well as of original hymns. It is doubtless owing to this abundant intermittent inflow from England that the production of American hymns has been so scanty. Only a few writers, among them Thomas Hastings and Ray Palmer, have written each a considerable number of hymns that have taken root in the common use of the church. Not a few names besides are associated each with some one or two or three lyrics that have won an enduring place in the affections of Christian worshipers. 388The “gospel hymns” which have flowed from many pens in increasing volume since the revival of 1857 have proved their great usefulness, especially in connection with the ministry of Messrs. Moody and Sankey; but they are, even the best of them, short-lived. After their season the church seems not unwilling to let them die.
Soon after the mid-point of the nineteenth century, began a serious study of the subject of the conduct of public worship, which continues to this day, with good promise of sometime reaching useful and stable results. In 1855 was published “Eutaxia, or the Presbyterian Liturgies: Historical Sketches. By a Minister of the Presbyterian Church.” The author, Charles W. Baird, was a man peculiarly fitted to render the church important service, such as indeed he did render in this volume, and in the field of Huguenot history which he divided with his brother, Henry M. Baird. How great the loss to historical theology through his protracted feebleness of body and his death may be conjectured, not measured. This brief volume awakened an interest in the subject of it in America, and in Scotland, and among the nonconformists of England. To American Presbyterians in general it was something like a surprise to be reminded that the sisterhood of the “Reformed” sects were committed by their earliest and best traditions in favor of liturgic uses in public worship. At about the same time the fruitful discussions of the Mercersburg controversy were in progress in the German Reformed Church. “Mercersburg found fault with the common style of extemporaneous public prayer, and advocated a revival of the liturgical church service of the Reformation period, but so modified and reproduced as to be adapted to the existing wants of Protestant congregations.”238238 Professor Gerhart, in “Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia,” p. 1475. Each of these discussions was followed by a 389proposed book of worship. In 1857 was published by Mr. Baird “A Book of Public Prayer, Compiled from the Authorized Formularies of Worship of the Presbyterian Church, as Prepared by the Reformers, Calvin, Knox, Bucer, and others”; and in 1858 was set forth by a committee of the German Reformed Church “A Liturgy, or Order of Christian Worship.” In 1855 St. Peter’s Presbyterian Church of Rochester published its “Church-book,” prepared by Mr. L. W. Bacon, then acting as pastor, which was principally notable for introducing the use of the Psalms in parallelisms for responsive reading—a use which at once found acceptance in many churches, and has become general in all parts of the country. Sporadic experiments followed in various individual congregations, looking toward greater variety or greater dignity or greater musical attractiveness in the services of public worship, or toward more active participation therein on the part of the people. But these experiments, conducted without concert or mutual counsel, often without serious study of the subject, and with a feebly esthetic purpose, were representative of individual notions, and had in them no promise of stability or of fruit after their kind. Only, by the increasing number of them, they have given proof of an unrest on this subject which at last is beginning to embody itself in organization and concerted study and enterprise. A fifty years of mere tentative groping is likely to be followed by another fifty years of substantial progress.
The influence of the Protestant Episcopal Church upon this growing tendency has been sometimes favorable, sometimes unfavorable, but always important. To begin with, it has held up before the whole church an example of prescribed forms for divine worship, on the whole, the best in all history. On the other hand, it has drawn to 390itself those in other sects whose tastes and tendencies would make them leaders in the study of liturgics, and thus while reinforcing itself has hindered the general advance of improvement in the methods of worship. Withal, its influence has tended to narrow the discussion to the consideration of a single provincial and sectarian tradition, as if the usage of a part of the Christians of the southern end of one of the islands of the British archipelago had a sort of binding authority over the whole western continent. But again, on the other hand, the broadening of its own views to the extent of developing distinctly diverse ways of thinking among its clergy and people has enlarged the field of study once more, and tended to interest the church generally in the practical, historical, and theological aspects of the subject. The somewhat timid ventures of “Broad” and “Evangelical” men in one direction, and the fearless breaking of bounds in the other direction by those of “Ritualist” sympathies, have done much to liberate this important communion from slavish uniformity and indolent traditionalism; and within a few years that has been accomplished which only a few years earlier would have been deemed impossible—the considerable alteration and improvement of the Book of Common Prayer.
It is safe to prognosticate, from the course of the history up to this point, that the subject of the conduct of worship will become more and more seriously a subject of study in the American church in all its divisions; that the discussions thereon arising will be attended with strong antagonisms of sentiment; that mutual antagonisms within the several sects will be compensated by affiliations of men like-minded across sectarian lines; and that thus, as many times before, particular controversies will tend to general union and fellowship.
One topic under this title of Liturgics requires special 391mention—the use of music in the church. It was not till the early part of the eighteenth century that music began to be cultivated as an art in America.239239 “Massachusetts Historical Collections,” second series, vol. iv., p. 301; quoted in the “New Englander,” vol. xiii., p. 467 (August, 1855). Up to that time “the service of song in the house of the Lord” had consisted, in most worshiping assemblies on this continent, in the singing of rude literal versifications of the Psalms and other Scriptures to some eight or ten old tunes handed down by tradition, and variously sung in various congregations, as modified by local practice. The coming in of “singing by rule” was nearly coincident with the introduction of Watts’s psalms and hymns, and was attended with like agitations. The singing-school for winter evenings became an almost universal social institution; and there actually grew up an American school of composition, quaint, rude, and ungrammatical, which had great vogue toward the end of the last century, and is even now remembered by some with admiration and regret. It was devoted mainly to psalmody tunes of an elaborate sort, in which the first half-stanza would be sung in plain counterpoint, after which the voices would chase each other about in a lively imitative movement, coming out together triumphantly at the close. They abounded in forbidden progressions and empty chords, but were often characterized by fervor of feeling and by strong melodies. A few of them, as “Lenox” and “Northfield,” still linger in use; and the productions of this school in general, which amount to a considerable volume, are entitled to respectful remembrance as the first untutored utterance of music in America. The use of them became a passionate delight to our grandparents; and the traditions are fresh and vivid of the great choirs filling the church galleries on three sides, and tossing the theme about from part to part.392
The use of these rudely artificial tunes involved a gravely important change in the course of public worship. In congregations that accepted them the singing necessarily became an exclusive privilege of the choir. To a lamentable extent, where there was neither the irregular and spontaneous ejaculation of the Methodist nor the rubrical response of the Episcopalian, the people came to be shut out from audible participation in the acts of public worship.
A movement of musical reform in the direction of greater simplicity and dignity began early in this century, when Lowell Mason in Boston and Thomas Hastings in New York began their multitudinous publications of psalmody. Between them not less than seventy volumes of music were published in a period of half as many years. Their immense and successful fecundity was imitated with less success by others, until the land was swamped with an annual flood of church-music books. A thin diluvial stratum remains to us from that time in tunes, chiefly from the pen of Dr. Mason, that have taken permanent place as American chorals. Such pieces as “Boylston,” “Hebron,” “Rockingham,” “Missionary Hymn,” and the adaptations of Gregorian melodies, “Olmutz” and “Hamburg,” are not likely to be displaced from their hold on the American church by more skilled and exquisite compositions of later schools. But the fertile labors of the church musicians of this period were affected by the market demand for new material for the singing-school, the large church choir, and the musical convention. The music thus introduced into the churches consisted not so much of hymn-tunes and anthems as of “sacred glees.”240240 This was the criticism of the late Rev. Mr. Havergal, of Worcester Cathedral, to whom Dr. Mason had sent copies of some of his books. The incident was freely told by Dr. Mason himself.393
Before the middle of the century the Episcopal Church had arrived at a point at which it was much looked to to set the fashions in such matters as church music and architecture. Its influence at this time was very bad. It was largely responsible for the fashion, still widely prevalent, of substituting for the church choir a quartet of professional solo singers, and for the degradation of church music into the dainty, languishing, and sensuous style which such “artists” do most affect. The period of “The Grace Church Collection,” “Greatorex’s Collection,” and the sheet-music compositions of George William Warren and John R. Thomas was the lowest tide of American church music.
A healthy reaction from this vicious condition began about 1855, with the introduction of hymn-and-tune books and the revival of congregational singing. From that time the progressive improvement of the public taste may be traced in the character of the books that have succeeded one another in the churches, until the admirable compositions of the modern English school of psalmody tend to predominate above those of inferior quality. It is the mark of a transitional period that both in church music and in church architecture we seem to depend much on compositions and designs derived from older countries. The future of religious art in America is sufficiently well assured to leave no cause for hurry or anxiety.
In glancing back over this chapter, it will be strange if some are not impressed, and unfavorably impressed, with a disproportion in the names cited as representative, which are taken chiefly from some two or three sects. This may justly be referred in part, no doubt, to the author’s point of view and to the “personal equation”; but it is more largely due to the fact that in the specialization of the 394various sects the work of theological literature and science has been distinctively the lot of the Congregationalists and the Presbyterians, and preeminently of the former.241241 For many generations the religious and theological literature of the country proceeded almost exclusively, at first or second hand, from New England. The Presbyterian historian, Professor Robert Ellis Thompson, remarks that “until after the division of 1837 American Presbyterianism made no important addition to the literature of theology” (“The Presbyterians,” p. 143). The like observation is true down to a much more recent date of the Protestant Episcopal Church. Noble progress has been made in both these denominations in reversing this record. It is matter of congratulation that the inequality among the denominations in this respect is in a fair way to be outgrown.
Special mention must be made of the peculiarly valuable contribution to the liturgical literature of America that is made by the oldest of our episcopal churches, the Moravian. This venerable organization is rich not only in the possession of a heroic martyr history, but in the inheritance of liturgic forms and usages of unsurpassed beauty and dignity. Before the other churches had emerged from a half-barbarous state in respect to church music, this art was successfully cultivated in the Moravian communities and missions. In past times these have had comparatively few points of contact and influence with the rest of the church; but when the elements of a common order of divine worship shall by and by begin to grow into form, it is hardly possible that the Moravian traditions will not enter into it as an important factor.
A combination of conditions which in the case of other bodies in the church has been an effective discouragement to literary production has applied with especial force to the Roman Catholic Church in America. First, its energies and resources, great as they are, have been engrossed by absolutely prodigious burdens of practical labor; and secondly, its necessary literary material has been furnished 395to it from across the sea, ready to its hand, or needing only the light labor of translation. But these two conditions are not enough, of themselves, to account for the very meager contribution of the Catholic Church to the common religious and theological literature of American Christendom. Neither is the fact explained by the general low average of culture among the Catholic population; for literary production does not ordinarily proceed from the man of average culture, but from men of superior culture, such as this church possesses in no small number, and places in positions of undisturbed “learned leisure” that would seem in the highest degree promotive of intellectual work. But the comparative statistics of the Catholic and the Protestant countries and universities of Germany seem to prove conclusively that the spirit and discipline of the Roman Church are unfavorable to literary productiveness in those large fields of intellectual activity that are common and free alike to the scholars of all Christendom. It remains to be seen whether the stimulating atmosphere and the free and equal competitions of the New World will not show their invigorating effect in the larger activity of Catholic scholars, and their liberation from within the narrow lines of polemic and defensive literature. The republic of Christian letters has already shown itself prompt to welcome accessions from this quarter. The signs are favorable. Notwithstanding severe criticisms of their methods proceeding from the Catholic press, or rather in consequence of such criticisms, the Catholic institutions of higher learning are rising in character and in public respect; and the honorable enterprise of establishing at Washington an American Catholic university, on the upbuilding of which shall be concentrated the entire intellectual strength and culture of this church, promises an invigorating influence that shall extend through that whole system of educational 396institutions which the church has set on foot at immense cost, and not with wholly satisfactory results.
Recent events in the Catholic Church in America tend to reassure
all minds on an important point on which not bigots and alarmists only, but liberal-minded
citizens apostolically willing to “look not only on their own things but also on
the things of others,” have found reasonable ground for anxiety. The American Catholic
Church, while characterized in . all its ranks, in respect of loyal devotion to
the pope, by a high type of ultramontane orthodoxy, is to be administered on patriotic
American principles. The brief term of service of Monsignor Satolli as papal legate
clothed with plenipotentiary authority from the Roman see stamped out the scheme
called from its promoter “Cahenslyism,” which would have divided the American Catholic
Church into permanent alien communities, conserving each its foreign language and
organized under its separate hierarchy. The organization of parishes to be administered
in other languages than English is suffered only as a temporary necessity. The deadly
warfare against the American common-school system has abated. And the anti-American
denunciations contained in the bull and syllabus of December 8, 1864, are openly
renounced as lacking the note of infallibility.242242 So (for example) Bishop O’Gorman,
“The Roman Catholics,” p.
434. And yet, at the time, the bull with its appendix was certainly looked upon
as “an act of infallibility.” See, in “La Bulle Quanta Cura et la Civilisation
Moderne, par l’Abbé Pélage” (Paris, 1865), the utterances of all the French bishops.
The language of Bishop Plantier of Poitiers seems decisive: “The Vicar of Jesus
Christ, doctor and pastor charged with the teaching and ruling of the entire church,
addressed to the bishops, and through them to all the Christian universe, instructions,
the object of which is to settle the mind and enlighten the conscience on sundry
points of Christian doctrine and morals” (pp. 503, 504). See also pp. 445, 450.
This brings it within the Vatican Council’s definition of an infallible utterance.
But we are bound to bear in mind that not only is the infallible authority of this
manifesto against “progress, liberalism, and modern civilization” disclaimed,
but the meaning of it, which seems unmistakably clear, is disputed. “The syllabus,”
says Bishop O’Gorman, “is technical and legal in its language, . . . and
needs to be interpreted to the lay reader by the ecclesiastical lawyer” (p. 435).
A seriously important desideratum in .theological literature is some authoritative canon of the infallible utterances of the Roman see. It is difficult to fix on any one of them the infallible authority of which is not open to dispute within the church itself; while the liability of them to misinterpretation (as in the case of the Quanta Cura and Syllabus) brings in still another element of vagueness and uncertainty.
Of course, as in all large communities of vigorous vitality, there will be mutually antagonist parties in this body but it is hardly to be doubted that with the growth and acclimatization of the Catholic Church in America that party will eventually predominate which is most in sympathy with the ruling ideas of the country and the age.398
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