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“We cannot spare you”: Phillips Brooks's Break with the Evangelical Party, 1859–1873

  • Gillis J. Harp (a1)


Despite renewed scholarly interest in Evangelical Episcopalianism recently, important questions persist about the party's demise in the last third of the nineteenth century. Though church historians have advanced some plausible explanations for its disappearance, these interpretations need now to be tested by more narrowly focused studies of individuals, both committed party men and their less partisan allies. Concomitant questions also linger about the relationship between Evangelicals and the emergent Broad Church movement within the American church and within the Anglican communion generally. Exactly how did Low Church Evangelicals become Low Church liberals by the turn of the century? More importantly, this subject has a broader significance for the history of American Christianity at large. Pursuing the foregoing questions can shed considerable light on the parallel transformation of a moderately Reformed American evangelicalism into turn-of-the-century liberal Protestantism.



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1. See Butler, Diana Hochstedt, Standing against the Whirlwind: Evangelical Episcopalians in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), esp. chaps. 6–7;Guelzo, Allen, For the Union of Evangelical Christendom: The Irony of the Reformed Episcopalians (University Park, Pa: Perm State Press, 1994), chap. 3 and epilogue;Holmes, David L., “Restoration Ideology among Early Episcopal Evangelicals,” in The American Quest for the Primitive Church, ed. Hughes, Richard T. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 153–70; and Rankin, Richard, Ambivalent Churchmen and Evangelical Churchwomen: The Religion of the Episcopal Elite in North Carolina, 1800–1860 (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1993). In this article, I have capitalized “Evangelical” when I am referring to the party within the Episcopal Church, as distinct from the movement within Anglo-American Protestantism in general.

2. Ahlstrom, Sydney, A Religious History of the American People (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1972), 739. Ahlstrom here mentions Brooks and Beecher as the most notable examples of “the many preachers who set new patterns in the city churches” during the late nineteenth century. Winthrop Hudson lists Brooks among eight preachers “of national prominence” at this time. See Hudson, Winthrop, Religion in America (New York: Scribner's, 1965), 294.

3. Converts from Congregationalism or Unitarianism included fellow New Englanders Frederick Dan Hunrington (from the latter), Leighton Parks, and Edward A. Wasburn (both from the former). Liberal clerics A. V. G. Allen (named after Evangelical bishop Alexander Viets Griswold) and R. Heber Newton (son of stalwart Richard Newton) both rejected their parents' evangelicalism as young men. See Butler, Whirlwind, 227–28.

4. Brooks exercised a powerful influence over many younger Episcopal clergy such as future leaders A.V. G. Allen (who would be his first biographer), William Reed Huntington, William Lawrence (Brooks's successor as bishop of Massachusetts) and William S. Rainsford. For the latter, see Butler, Whirlwind, 231.

5. Booty, John E., Mission and Ministry: A History of the Virginia Theological Seminary (Alexandria: Virginia Theological Seminary, 1995), esp chaps. 34.

6. Allen's, A. V. G.Life and Letters of Phillips Brooks (New York: Dutton, 1900) exaggerates Brooks's debt to evangelicalism especially in his younger years. I have argued this point at greater length in The Young Phillips Brooks: A Reassessment,” journal of Ecclesiastical History 49 (1998): 652–67. John Woolverton, The Education of Phillips Brooks (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995), is more nuanced than Allen on this point and, I think, closer to the mark. Brooks later remarked that when he first encountered his evangelical classmates at a prayer meeting at VTS he was impressed by their fervor. But soon he discovered they were poor scholars. “The boiler,” he commented, “had no connection with the engine” (Lectures on Preaching [New York: Dutton, 1877], 44).

7. Allen, Life, 1:330.

8. Episcopal Recorder, quoted in Allen, Life, 1:335.

9. Allen, Life, 1:387–88.

10. Newton, William Wilberforce, Yesterday with the Fathers (New York: Cochrane, 1910), 24.

11. Allen, Life, 2:119: “out of the three hundred and seventy-two sermons which stand recorded in his sermon notebook as written there [Philadelphia], he has deliberately chosen to publish only five.” I suspect that Brooks had at least two reasons for not publishing these sermons. Some (like the two quoted here) may have been more forthright on controversial doctrinal questions than the mature Brooks liked to be. Others owed more to the conventional Evangelical approach Brooks had encountered at Virginia Seminary and that Brooks soon associated with the old guard.

12. Coleridge, , Aids to Reflection, in The Complete Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, vol. 1, ed. Professor Shedd (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1854), 363. This is probably the edition Brooks read in the VTS library. The philosphical distinction here is derived from Kant.

13. PB, “Sermon No. 56,” 2–3 (preached at Church of the Advent, Philadelphia, 8 April I860), Phillips Brooks Collection, VTS Archives, Bishop Payne Library, Virginia Theological Seminary, Alexandria, Va.

14. PB, “Sermon No. 56,” 5.

15. PB, “Sermon No. 56,” 6.

16. PB, “Sermon No. 63,” 11–12 (preached at Church of the Advent, Philadelphia, 3 lune 1860), Phillips Brooks Collection, VTS Archives, Bishop Payne Library, Virginia Theological Seminary, Alexandria, Va.

17. James S. Stone to PB, 19 July 1881, in Brooks Papers, bMS Am 1594.1 [530]. Stone went on to say in this same letter that his initial misgivings lessened the more he heard Brooks preach.

18. See Newton, Yesterday with the Fathers, 25–27.

19. For perceptive discussions of the deepening crisis for Evangelicals during the sixties, see Butler, Whirlwind, chaps. 5–6; Guelzo, For the Union, chap. 3.

20. Allen, Life, 1:388. Allen then admits that many “recognized some difference in the presentation of the truth as they held it,” but stresses that they were confident about Brooks's position on the essentials. I think Allen exaggerates both Brooks's “soundness” and the stalwarts' confidence in him here.

21. R. C. Matlack, “Reminiscences,” MSS in Houghton Library, Harvard University, bMs Am 1594.1(630), 1.

22. Letter, PB to “Mr. Whitehead,” 27 Nov. 1867, in PB Papers, ECUSA Archives, 85.78; PP199.

23. See Butler, Whirlwind, 197–99. The subject of Prayer Book revision was discussed at a meeting of the Evangelical societies in Philadelphia in the fall of 1867. Radical calls for wholesale revision were stifled then by Bishops Eastburn, Lee, and McIlvaine.

24. Matlack, “Reminiscences,” 14.

25. Addison, James Thayer, The Episcopal Church in the United States, 1789–1931 (New York: Scribner's, 1951), 174–75.

26. Allen, Life, 1:484.

27. Allen notes this also. See Life, 1:486.

28. Allen, Life, 1:484.

29. The controversy is almost completely ignored by Brooks's biographers. For example, Albright's, Raymond W.Focus on Infinity: A Life of Phillips Brooks (New York: MacMillan, 1961) spends only one paragraph on it in more than four hundred pages. See 159.

30. Matlack, “Reminiscences,” 21.

31. Matlack, “Reminiscences,” 21.

32. Again, see Butler, Whirlwind, chap. 6 for an excellent description of the desperate mood of many Evangelicals in this period.

33. This sort of language may sound extreme to modern ears but it is worth recalling here that the following year a committee of Episcopal bishops would recommend at General Convention a tough set of new canons to outlaw much of the new ceremonial. The committee sought to proscribe the use of a processional cross, candles on the Holy Table, acolytes to assist at the Eucharist, plus crossings and genuflections, among other things. Though this set of proposals was defeated after prolonged debate, they confirm that the EES's liturgical views were still pretty mainstream. See Chorley, E. Clowes, Men and Movements in the American Episcopal Church (New York: Scribner's, 1946), 376–90.

34. The two books were May, James, Evangelical Religion: In Its Connexion with the English and American Episcopal Churches (New York: Protestant Episcopal Society for the Promotion of Evangelical Knowledge, 1851); andStone, John S., The Contrast: Or, the Evangelical and Tractarian Systems, Compared in Their Structure and Tendencies (New York: Protestant Episcopal Society for the Promotion of Evangelical Knowledge, 1853).

35. PB to RM, 15 Oct. 1870, in Matlack, “Reminiscences,” 22.

36. Brooks, cited in Allen, Life, 2:73.

37. Brooks, cited in Allen, Life, 2:73.

38. RM to PB, 15 Nov. 1870, in Matlack, “Reminiscences.”

39. RM to PB, 11 Nov. 1870, in Matlack, “Reminiscences,” 25. Emphasis in the original.

40. James May, the author of Evangelical Religion, was one of Brooks's instructors at Virginia Seminary. Without knowing the depth of his former classmate's complaints against the seminary, Matlack was understandably at a loss here. Brooks was friendly with John S. Stone, the author of The Contrast. Stone's book was one of several anti-Tractarian books published in the forties and fifties with the imprimatur of the Protestant Episcopal Society for the Promotion of Evangelical Knowledge. As such works go, it was less strident than many, polemical without being shrill. In fact, Stone conceded that some Tractarians meant well and were in their own (mistaken) way seeking to help the church. Yet the author's separatist tone in the book's final pages would certainly have been a red flag for Brooks. Here, Stone argued that Tractarianism had advanced so far within the Episcopal Church in part because Evangelicals had loved church unity more than truth. They had avoided theological controversy in order to preserve a false and artificial model of church unity. As Stone put it: “When the love of unity overmasters the love of truth, the hope of a safe Church is gone. The first step from this fatal disturbance of the scriptural balance is, to confound the true idea of Christian unity with that of a merely outward, visible, secular consolidation: and then, for the sake of maintaining this kind of unity at all hazards, comes the gradual result of making the Church one vast compound;—a mixture of truth and error, superstition and corruption … and[such an approach] make[s]the whole mass unsavory to God and unsaving to man.” Tractarianism held little appeal for Brooks and Ritualism even less, but his emerging understanding of Anglican comprehensiveness moved him to reject both the hard edges of the EES's test questions and Stone's preference for principle and party over denominational peace.

41. RM to PB, 18 Oct. 1870, in Matlack, “Reminiscences,” 25–26.

42. RM to PB, 18 Oct. 1870, in Matlack, “Reminiscences.”

43. RM to PB, 11 Nov. 1870, in Matlack, “Reminiscences,” 26.

44. RM to PB, 15 Nov. 1870, in Matlack, “Reminiscences.”

45. RM to PB, 5 Dec. 1870, in Matlack, “Reminiscences,” 33.

46. RM to PB, 6 Jan. 1871, in Matlack, “Reminiscences,” 35.

47. PB to RM, 9 Jan. 1871, in Matlack, “Reminiscences,” 35.

48. Huntington, William Reed, cited in Suter, John W., ed. Life and Letters ofW. R. Huntington (New York: Century, 1925), 52.

49. How Bishop Eastburn actually phrased his encouraging comments is ironic in light of subsequent developments. Eastburn wrote to Brooks that he feared that Trinity “may hit on the wrong man if you decline, and so that important pulpit shall no longer proclaim the full Gospel, or advocate those Institutions which sustain evangelical principles.” See Eastburn to PB, 25 August [?] 1868, in Brooks Papers, bMS Am 1594.1. J. S. Stone also expressed his concerns about “High Church rule” in the diocese should Brooks decline to accept the call from Trinity. See Stone to PB, 17 September 1868, in Brooks Papers, bMS Am 1594.1 [530].

50. Allen, Life, 2:16. Allen appears to be actually quoting Eastburn here.

51. Allen, Life, 2:76. My emphasis. Allen rightly observes that Brooks's words here “have the apparent tone of one speaking from the outside.” Yet Allen then adds that “the tone is also of one who was still within the circle from which he did not seek escape.” I see no evidence in the eulogy to support this assertion and, indeed, as the preceding pages have shown, there is considerable evidence that Brooks had already distanced himself from the party. Allen, Life, 2:76.

52. Allen, Life, 2:77. In a private letter written at about this same time, Brooks was blunter Referring to one recently deceased Evangelical, he remarked, “another of that fading school of Evangelicals who are fast passing away … All the old men are croaking and helpless ” (Allen 2:81). b

53. Allen, Life, 2:77.

54. Guelzo, Allen, “A Test of Identity: The Vestments Controversy in the Reformed Episcopal Church, 1873–1897,” Anglican and Episcopal History 61 (1992): 310.See also Guelzo, , “Ritual, Romanism, and Rebellion: The Disappearance of the Evangelical Episcopalians, 1853–1873,” Anglican and Episcopal History 62 (1993): esp. 561–67.

55. Cited in Allen, Life, 2:261. Interestingly, Brooks continued to wear a black preaching gown long after others stopped doing so. Cf. Guelzo, “Test of Identity.”

56. Brooks privately ridiculed the negative reaction of Anglo-Catholics but did not defend Cummins publicly. See Guelzo, For the Union, 130–31. Years later, Brooks did lament in an address at a Church Congress that the Episcopal Church had not been flexible enough to allow Evangelicals to omit reference to “regeneration” in the baptismal office and thus perhaps avoid schism. See “Liturgical Growth” in Essays and Addresses: Religious, Literary and Social (New York: Dutton, 1984), 100.

57. Allen, Life, 2:80.

58. Allen, Life, 2:81.

59. For Greer, see Chorley, Men and Movements, 302–303; for Rainsford, see Butler, Whirlwind, 230–32.

60. One cannot blame David Cummins for being dismayed by this development. See Guelzo, For the Union, 124–38.

61. After the Reformed Episcopal Church split, concludes one standard history, “the Church passed onward into a broader and better life.” See McConnell, S. D., History of the American Episcopal Church (New York: Whittaker, 1897), 401. As Guelzo has made clear, some of the RECs founders were, in fact, pilloried for their ecumenical habits and harshly disciplined for liturgical offences. See Guelzo, For the Union, esp. chaps. 3–4. Treatment of the REC in Episcopal historiography has been (at least until recently) unsympathetic. As a body, it has been alternatively dismissed as “schismatic,” patronized, or even ignored altogether. “Not being true Anglicans in spirit,” concludes Addison, “Cummins and his followers could not endure the tension which characterizes a comprehensive Church.” See Episcopal Church, 213. Similarly, Evangelicals in general who stuck to the old paths have often been dismissed. Chorley (one of the few traditional accounts that recognizes the important role of Evangelicals) condemns the conservative Evangelicals of the 1860s and 1870s because they were controversialists. “The spirit of controversy,” Chorley intones, “is fatal to the spirit of true piety.” Men and Movements, 394.


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