ANTI-CATHOLICISM, BAPTISM AND THE LIMITS OF CATHOLICITY
If the first major debate in the Old School focused on its own polity, the second set of issues intersected with a broader set of concerns. The General Assembly of 1845 argued three significant questions in its two week sessions at Cincinnati (May 15-27, 1845). The most famous decision affected slavery (chapter six), but the debates on marriage (chapter four) and the validity of Roman Catholic baptism lasted much longer. These three issues drew the church to consider its relationship to the civil law and to other churches. All three questions had percolated in the church for several years, and had been the objects of previous General Assembly discussions, but the question of Roman Catholic baptism excited the widest discussion in the newspapers following the Assembly.
The Old School General Assembly voted 173-8 to declare Roman Catholic baptism invalid. Given the general anti-Catholic sentiment of the times, this may not sound surprising. But this decision is remarkable because the Old School prided itself on its conservatism, and yet this was the first time that any Reformed church had rejected the validity of Roman Catholic baptism. Presbyterians in Scotland and Ireland had historically followed the 1565 decision of the Scottish General Assembly accepting the validity of such baptisms. While anti-Catholicism played a significant role (together with the traditional eschatological description of the pope as the “beast” or “antichrist”), that alone cannot explain why the Old School chose to reject the validity of Roman Catholic baptism. Changing conceptions of catholicity, along with the common sense moral reasoning associated with what Mark Noll has called a Reformed literal hermeneutic were also crucial in developing overwhelming support for such a radical innovation.
In America, the question of Roman Catholic baptism was initially raised at the General Assembly in 1832. The moderator, the Rev. James Hoge, pastor at Columbus, Ohio, appointed a temporary committee, including Robert J. Breckinridge, at that time a young ruling elder. This committee urged the Assembly to deny its validity. But the committee’s report collided with Samuel Miller’s staunch defense of the historic Reformed position, so the Assembly referred the matter to a study committee of leading theology professors from around the country. Its geographical diffusion hamstrung this committee, so the following year the Assembly referred the matter to a committee of ministers and professors along the New York-Baltimore corridor.
The two major Presbyterian decisions regarding Roman Catholicism occurred in 1835 and 1845, in the midst of one of the most rabidly anti-Catholic periods of American history. The first, instigated by Robert Breckinridge’s brother John, determined that “the Roman Catholic Church has essentially apostatized from the religion of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and therefore cannot be recognized as a Christian Church.” John Breckinridge’s Presbytery of Baltimore had introduced an overture on popery, and his proposed resolution declared that Rome was apostate,
cast off from the church of Christ; and therefore that her ordinances, acts, and administrations are not to be recognized as valid, and that this is more especially true in regard to her professed sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist--inasmuch as by various profane exorcisms, idolatrous incantations and unauthorized additions, mutilations and ceremonies, these simple sacraments have wholly lost their original character and true design.
Samuel Miller, John Breckinridge’s father-in-law, could “not agree to all the report, especially to the calling in question the validity of Romish baptism.” Miller urged the Assembly to remove the reference to the sacraments, since the Reformed churches had always acknowledged Roman Catholic baptism. In reply, Breckinridge argued that “the moment I admit the validity of Romish ordinances. . . I am beaten in my argument” against Rome. While he admitted that ecclesiastical statements would not accomplish much in debate with “papists,” he claimed that since popery was becoming more and more powerful, it was time to act. In the end, the Assembly removed the reference to the sacraments, but retained the general statement that the Roman Catholic church was apostate and no longer a church of Jesus Christ.
The Assembly had refused to reject Roman Catholic baptism explicitly, but the Breckinridges hoped that this more general condemnation would pave the way for a later reconsideration of the baptism question. And they had succeeded in bringing the question of Roman Catholic expansion to the attention of the Presbyterian Church. In a unanimous decision, the General Assembly urged all Presbyterians to resist the extension of Romanism “by means of the pulpit and the press, and all other proper and Christian means,” and declared that it was “utterly inconsistent with the strongest obligations of Christian parents to place their children for education in Roman Catholic Seminaries.”
But while the church had not formally condemned Roman Catholic baptism, many pointed out that the declaration that Rome was no longer a Christian church had implications for its baptisms. As M. Maclean, editor of the Southern Christian Herald, replied to one inquirer, “the inference from this resolution of the Assembly seems to us to be adverse to the validity of Roman Catholic baptism. For an association which cannot be recognized as a Christian church surely can have no authority to administer ordinances which only the ministers of the church can administer.”
1. The Underlying Issue: Where Was the Church?
The question at stake was the matter of catholicity. Presbyterians generally recognized the validity of other branches of the Christian church, but for centuries that recognition was mostly focused on churches in other countries. The old confessional model of the Reformed church had insisted that the sacraments must be administered by a duly ordained minister. If the established Church of Scotland deposed a minister, then he could no longer serve as a pastor, and therefore there was little danger of him attempting to continue baptizing and preaching without being labeled as a schismatic, detached from the church of Jesus Christ.
In America, the Presbyterian church was merely one church among many, yet it attempted to retain its catholic conception of the fellowship of the church. If a Presbyterian minister became convinced of Baptistic views, he might be deposed, but then he would merely turn to the Baptists. Likewise, if a Presbyterian minister became an Arminian, he could simply transfer to the Methodists. And since the Presbyterian church recognized these other denominations as Christian churches, how could it consistently depose a man from the ministry who merely taught the same things as others whom the church recognized as validly ordained ministers?
Several case studies presented themselves. One of the first was the Cumberland Presbyterian schism of 1806-1810. The Cumberland ministers had been deposed in 1806, and had only started the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in 1810. Since deposition removed a man from the ordained ministry, technically his baptisms would be considered lay baptisms–a thing not recognized by the Presbyterian church. But the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, with its blend of Calvinism and Arminianism, was closer to the Presbyterian church than the Wesleyan Methodists. How could Presbyterians recognize Methodist baptism, while rejecting that of the Cumberland Presbyterians? In a move that attempted to preserve the integrity of Presbyterian discipline, while recognizing the validity of other denominations, the General Assembly of 1825 declared that Cumberland Presbyterian baptisms were invalid from 1806-1810, while the Cumberland ministers were under the discipline of the church, but were valid after 1810, once they had their own denominational structure.
In a similar case in South Carolina in the 1830s, the Synod of South Carolina and Georgia declared that the Independent Presbyterian Church (a schism led by the Rev. William C. Davis in 1810) had no valid ordinations or baptisms, stating “That this Synod do not acknowledge as valid the ordinance of Baptism as administered by a deposed Minister, or by any one whom such deposed Minister may have ordained, or by a Layman.” One of its presbyteries disagreed. Following the Assembly’s decision regarding the Cumberland Presbyterians, Bethel Presbytery argued that while the Independent Presbyterian ordinances had “a high degree of irregularity,” they were still valid. In an intriguing argument, one presbyter from Bethel argued that the censure of deposition did not remove Davis’ ministerial office; “the only effect of such a sentence is to declare him no longer a Minister in our connexion. Are we to set ourselves up as the standard, and say that as soon as a man ceases to hold our peculiar views of doctrine, he ceases to be a Minister?” If a Presbyterian minister left to become a Baptist or an Episcopalian, the church generally did not depose him–or if it did, that would not alter his ministerial character. Arguing that the Synod’s decision was bigoted, sectarian, and high-church, he urged the church to reconsider. This presbyter was attempting to articulate a way of maintaining discipline, while recognizing the catholicity of the visible church.
Benjamin Gildersleeve, the editor of the Charleston Observer, replied that this argument undermined traditional Presbyterian discipline, and would require the church to accept lay baptisms and lay ordinations. Deposition was not merely a statement that a man ceased to be a minister “in our connexion.” It really removed him from the gospel ministry entirely. He was no longer a clergyman, but was a layman. Gildersleeve insisted that while Presbyterians may have recognized the existence of other denominations, they could not allow this to interfere with the proper exercise of discipline. Gildersleeve was technically correct with respect to the language of the church order, but the church order was not designed for the denominational world.
By the 1840s questions were also being raised about the propriety of accepting Campbellite baptisms. The basic problem was that the Campbellites had no creed. How could the Presbyterian church determine whether the Campbellites were truly Christian if they did not say what they believed? Catholicity had its limits. One author wrote in 1849 that Old School Presbyterians did not generally accept Campbellite baptism: “Our uniform practice has been to receive persons coming from that communion, as coming from the world, unless they have been baptized by a regularly ordained minister of an evangelical church before becoming connected with that body.” Another writer alleged that many Campbellites denied the doctrine of the Trinity. In 1858 the Presbytery of Transylvania (Kentucky) had declared that valid baptism required that the administration be by “a true Church of Christ, holding baptism to be a seal of the righteousness of faith and a sign of cleansing by the blood of Christ and the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit; and to acknowledge also the person administering that baptism to be a minister of Christ lawfully called to administer ordinances.” The presbytery could not recognize the Campbellites as a “part of the true Church visible,” because they had no creed: “The vessel that sails the seas, refusing to show the flag, is presumed to be piratical.” Since the Campbellites refused to say what they believed, there was no way for other churches to maintain fellowship with them. Six years later the General Assembly declared Campbellite baptism to be invalid.
The underlying question was how to practice the catholicity of the church in the midst of denominational chaos. The problem was how to maintain a semblance of discipline in the context of the pluriformity of the church. If discipline was going to mean anything, then the church could not recognize the baptisms performed by deposed ministers. But not all error was equally destructive. Those errorists who remained within the bounds of evangelical orthodoxy could still be recognized as ministers–but no longer as ministers in the Presbyterian church. On the other hand, those who departed from orthodoxy entirely could no longer be considered Christian churches.
2. Catholicity vs. Rome: the Re-emergence of Anti-Catholicism, 1835-1845
But when Presbyterians attempted to establish criteria for determining where to find the church, they usually found their benchmark in the classic controversy with Rome. But the classic controversy was altered by the new denominational Protestant world. Never before had Presbyterians formally rejected the validity of Roman Catholic baptism, but they felt the relentless pressure of the renewed Protestant movement to deny that Rome was a true church–and if Rome was not a true church, then many could not see any alternative but to reject the validity of its baptism.
Linda Colley has argued that a Protestant national identity was formed in Great Britain primarily as a reaction to the French Roman Catholic “other,” during the colonial wars of the eighteenth century. Colonial American anti-Catholic tendencies plainly drew on the same source. Both the question of Roman Catholic baptism and the education debates reveal how Protestant nationality functioned in an American context.
Most historians recognize that the resurgence of anti-Catholicism was launched by fears over the increased Roman Catholic immigration in the 1820s and 1830s. Ray Allen Billington’s 1938 The Protestant Crusade remains the most thorough study, though it covers only the most virulent wing of the anti-Catholic movement, and focuses almost solely on the political connection between anti-Catholicism and nativism. While the linkage of anti-Catholicism with nativism is plain, the two movements are not identical. Much of American anti-Catholicism was rooted primarily in Protestants’ theological convictions regarding the nature of the Roman Catholic church, along with the political ramifications of those theological claims. Anti-Catholics were not necessarily nativist, since many encouraged immigration from Protestant countries. As long as Roman Catholics remained a tiny minority, they could tolerate their presence; but as immigration swelled the ranks of the Roman Catholic church, Protestants became convinced that the religious and political power of Rome was a serious threat to American civil and religious liberties. The reason that historians have confused anti-Catholicism with nativism is due to the rhetorical pressures of American politics. Those who prized religious freedom could not consistently form an anti-Catholic political organization. They had to couch their political rhetoric in the language of nativism. This created a dual front for the anti-Catholic movement: 1) an overtly theological attack on their religious objections to Roman Catholicism (roughly parallel to their theological debates with other Protestants); and 2) a political argument that was rhetorically abstracted from the theological discussion in order to remain consistent with the ideals of religious freedom.
Not surprisingly, then, Old School Presbyterians waged a war on both fronts–the theological and the political. The Protestant movement of the 1830s and 1840s utilized three basic media: the lecture, the debate, and the periodical press (which also printed many of the lectures and commented on the debates). A fourth forum developed in the civil courts, through a few high profile slander trials when Presbyterian editors were accused of defaming the character of certain Roman Catholic priests.
A. The Pulpit and the Press
The 1835 General Assembly had called for the pulpit and the press to be more active in combating the “aggression” of Rome, but this was merely in confirmation of what Nathan Rice and R. J. Breckinridge had already begun earlier that year. Rice started the Western Protestant in Bardstown, Kentucky, while Breckinridge edited the Baltimore Literary and Religious Magazine in Baltimore, Maryland, two of the first four Roman Catholic dioceses in America.
Breckinridge, three years into his first pastorate at the Second Presbyterian Church of Baltimore, claimed that he came to Baltimore with no desire to engage in the papal controversy. But when he offered a series of lectures on Roman Catholicism to his own congregation, a Roman Catholic priest interrupted one of the lectures, causing great excitement, and drawing much larger crowds. The city press had made some unfavorable comments about Breckinridge’s lectures, but when local editors refused to publish his responses (which, knowing Breckinridge, were probably inflammatory), he had become convinced that the Roman Catholics were trying to control the city press. The only way for a zealous Protestant to be heard in Baltimore was to start his own paper. “The Catholic population of Baltimore, with less than one-quarter of the aggregate wealth, enterprise, and intelligence of this good city, has for years exerted tenfold the influence over the press, that all the remaining three-quarters ever did. And, I for one, am ready to cooperate for the destruction of this hurtful and undue influence.”
The Baltimore Literary and Religious Magazine was designed to include at least one article devoted to the “papal controversy” every month. For the first two years of its existence, the paper devoted around three-quarters of its pages to the controversy. Some of the literature was “anti-Catholic” (such as the “Trial of Antichrist,” which ran from February to December of 1836, a clever fictional trial of the papacy before the court of heaven), but a large portion consisted of historical documents, patristic, medieval and modern (to use the three-fold division of church history current at the time). Papal bulls, patristic and medieval essays on the way of salvation, and historic episodes in church-state relations were on display for Breckinridge’s readers to absorb. With the anti-Catholic articles interspersed between the historical material, the intended message was obvious: the greatest threat to the religious and civil liberties of the nation was the papacy. Breckinridge admitted that most American Catholics repudiated certain tenets of Rome (such as the doctrine that no Protestant could be saved), but argued that if they disagreed with the Pope on such matters, perhaps it would be best if they became Protestants themselves!
Breckinridge did not ignore contemporary issues, however. He published articles defending Texas against the Mexican government as early as 1836, arguing that the problems in Texas were rooted in Roman Catholic attempts to get rid of Protestants, along with “republican government and religious liberty.” He claimed that two Roman Catholic bishops were funding the war with $1 million to drive all Americans out of Texas. When the College of New Jersey (a Presbyterian college) gave William Gaston (the Roman Catholic chief justice of North Carolina) an honorary doctorate in 1835, Breckinridge exploded, suggesting that Gaston had received a dispensation from the Bishop of Baltimore in order to hold political office in North Carolina (until 1835, when it was altered for Gaston’s sake, North Carolina’s Constitution required an oath that the office holder affirmed the general truth of the Protestant religion). In a similar vein, when it became known that Vice President Martin Van Buren had corresponded directly with the pope while secretary of state, and that now Roger B. Taney (a Roman Catholic) was a candidate for chief justice of the United States Supreme Court, Breckinridge was convinced that something was afoot:
we are no party politicians; we are no enemies of Mr. Van Buren; we have nothing to say against Mr. Taney. But we beseech the American people to ask themselves this plain question: What has Mr. Taney done or shown himself capable of doing, to deserve the highest, most illustrious, most honoured office, in the gift of man? Let the Roman Pontiff answer that question!”
As far as Breckinridge could see, the historical quest of the papacy for temporal power had not abated, and every advance made by Roman Catholic laymen was seen as being orchestrated by a secret papal conspiracy to overthrow American civil and religious liberty.
B. The Debates
With such rhetoric coming from Breckinridge’s monthly magazine (as well as other Protestant journals), perhaps it is not surprising that Roman Catholic priests tried to meet the paranoia by accepting some of the invitations to debate. In the mid-1830s several Protestant/Catholic debates occurred throughout the country. Perhaps the most famous took place in Baltimore in the winter of 1835/36 between the Reverend John Breckinridge (Robert’s brother, and the former pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Baltimore), and Father John Hughes (later archbishop of New York), on the question of whether either the Roman Catholic or the Presbyterian religion was “inimical to civil or religious liberty.” The topic had been chosen by the Union Literary and Debating Institute of Baltimore (consisting of both Roman Catholics and Protestants). The definitions agreed upon by both parties were that religious liberty consisted of the right of each individual to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience, without injuring or invading the rights of others; while civil liberty consisted of the absolute rights of an individual restrained only for the preservation of order in society. Both sides agreed to limit themselves only to the official doctrine of the two churches, as exemplified in their confessions and official doctrinal decisions. Needless to say, neither party followed this rule, but regularly appealed to the most intolerant acts of the other church (and in some cases made egregious errors of fact in relying upon the false accusations of others). But their main arguments–and their perpetual accusations of dishonesty against each other–revealed the impassable gulf between them.
Hughes presented himself, and the Roman Catholic church, as the champion of civil and religious liberty. Claiming that Presbyterians were trying to “destroy the civil and religious reputation of Catholics,” the Ulster-born Hughes told his hearers: “I was born under the scourge of Protestant persecution, of which my fathers, in common with their Catholic countrymen, had been the victims for ages. Hence I know the value of that civil and religious liberty which our happy government secures to all.”
Breckinridge replied that the very fact that Rome encourages religious establishments demonstrates that it is against religious liberty. Claiming that “conscientious papists” rejected the United States Constitution’s emphasis on the rights of conscience, he claimed that Roman Catholics “ascribe to the Pope the right and the power to dictate their creed, and to enforce obedience to it; and they are voluntary slaves by giving up their rights of conscience; and in all Catholic countries, they concur by civil and if necessary by military force, to compel submission in others. Hence no good Catholic can be a consistent American.” He suggested that if Hughes actually believed in the importance of civil and religious liberty, he should insist upon the rights of Protestants in Roman Catholic countries–such as Italy–to worship freely.
Hughes declared in turn that he rejected the idea that human authority could interfere with the rights of conscience. The Pope, he said, may not dictate our creed and force us to obey it: “the Pope has no such right, and the proposition would be condemned by the Pope himself, and the whole Catholic Church, as heretical.” He pointed to France and Poland as examples of Roman Catholic countries that maintained liberty of worship for Protestants and all others. When Breckinridge pointed out that the pope had regularly objected to this religious liberty in these countries, Hughes replied that this was the present pope’s position, but it had never been formally made a part of the church’s official doctrine.
Hughes then turned his guns on the Presbyterians (by which he meant the whole Reformed tradition). He suggested that attempts to pass sabbath legislation and the growing number of anti-Catholic periodicals and pamphlets were part of a conspiracy to make Presbyterianism the dominant religion in America. This, he insisted, broke from their Ulster heritage, since the Scots-Irish in Ulster would never have allowed such mistreatment of Irish Catholics as regularly occurred in America. Hughes had to admit that the Presbyterians had changed their creed to reject their former approval of established churches, but he argued that the Presbyterians ability to change their creed to fit political circumstances was dangerous because they could resume their intolerance as soon as it was convenient.
Breckinridge replied by pointing out that the Presbyterian Confession protects all Christians–including Roman Catholics. Pointing to the involvement of John Witherspoon and other Presbyterians in the Revolutionary cause, he argued that the American Constitution was the result of Presbyterian convictions–not the cause. We are no longer Scots, he argued, but Americans. When Hughes pointed to the statement in the Larger Catechism that Presbyterians are bound to seek to “remove idolatry” (and Presbyterians considered Roman Catholic worship to be idolatrous), and argued that the attack on the Boston convent was simply the outworking of Presbyterian principles, Breckinridge replied that the proper way to remove idolatry was through persuasion–not through violence or political power. He admitted that Roman Catholics had every right to proselytize in this country, but Presbyterians had every right to try to stop them through free inquiry and debate. He agreed that all religions had a right to the protection of the magistrate, but that protection extended to the freedom to condemn the religious principles of other religions. Predictably, both sides claimed the victory in the debate, but little was accomplished by either side.
C. Milly McPherson and Mr. Maguire: the Trials of N. L. Rice and R. J. Breckinridge
The conviction amongst Protestant groups that a Roman Catholic conspiracy was afoot occasionally led to accusations of serious ethical deviations, or even crimes. While the case of Maria Monk was the most famous, there were others that also gained notoriety, especially outside of the Northeast. Indeed, while Old School Presbyterians tended to believe that Monk was telling the truth, they seem to have not paid a great deal of attention to her case. Breckinridge waited ten months before commenting on the case, because he was uncertain of its truth. Its plausibility, however, was obvious to him. Like most in the Protestant movement, it took very little to convince him that Roman Catholic priests were capable of the most outrageous crimes. When Monk turned against her Protestant “benefactors” there seems to have been little interest in Old School papers, as some published Brownlee’s version of the story, and others ignored the case entirely.
Part of the reason for the relative indifference that Old School Presbyterians showed to Maria Monk may have been the fact that they had their own cause celebre, Milly McPherson. Nathan L. Rice was the pastor of the Presbyterian church in Bardstown, Kentucky from 1833-41. When he came to Bardstown, he was told of the mysterious disappearance of Milly McPherson, a Roman Catholic nun who had claimed to have been abused by a priest in 1831-32, and then fled, never to be heard from again. When Rice published the story in his Western Protestant in 1836, the priest sued him for libel. The trial was the sensation of the year in Kentucky. Two of Kentucky’s leading politicians, United States Senator John J. Crittenden and Lieutenant Governor Charles A. Wickliffe, served as counsel for Rice, along with Nathaniel Wickliffe. The priests did not deny that “the young woman had been in the nunnery; that she assigned, as a chief reason for leaving it, the licentious conduct of the priest; and that she had disappeared from the neighborhood,” but claimed that she was insane and had falsely accused him. Since the only witness was Milly McPherson, and all attempts to find her could only show that some woman by that name had briefly taught school in Indiana, the judge ordered that Rice had to be found guilty, since he could not substantiate his claims. The jury returned the verdict, but fined Rice only one cent, suggesting that they were not convinced of his guilt. For the next 25 years Rice used this story to suggest that McPherson had met some evil end. And for many years, when Old School Presbyterians (especially in the West) debated Roman Catholics, a common question was “what became of Milly McPherson?”
Not surprisingly, R. J. Breckinridge also was sued for libel. What is surprising is how long it took. After five years of his regular attacks on the Roman Catholic community in Baltimore (including a suggestion of foul play in May of 1835, when screams for help were heard from the Carmelite convent in Baltimore, and Breckinridge assumed that it was a sexual assault on a nun), he finally crossed the line when he accused the keeper of the city alms house, one Mr. James L. Maguire, of holding a man captive against his will at the order of Roman Catholic priests, when the man indicated that he wanted to learn about Protestantism.
When he learned of the lawsuit, Breckinridge was delighted. “Our purpose in the beginning was to expose the anti-christian, anti-social, anti-republican doctrines--and the corrupt and abominable practices of the papacy,” and now finally he would get his day in court. His entire magazine for May and June of 1840 was devoted to an account of the trial. Senator John J. Crittenden of Kentucky (who had defended Rice four years earlier) now came to Baltimore to help his old friend, along with William Schley, a local Baltimore lawyer. Senator William C. Preston of South Carolina (Breckinridge’s brother-in-law) provided informal counsel as well. The trial was the sensation of 1840 throughout the country. A hung jury resulted in Breckinridge’s acquittal, which prompted William C. Brownlee to congratulate him for dealing such a serious blow to “the Beast.”
Not all Old School Presbyterians, however, appreciated Breckinridge’s tactics. When Breckinridge visited New York City, William W. Phillips and Gardiner Spring (pastors of First and Brick Presbyterian churches, the two most prestigious Presbyterian congregations in the city) refused to let him preach from their pulpits, and James Lenox, ruling elder of First Church (and one of the leading contributors to Princeton Seminary), was said by Brownlee to “oppose our movements against Popery.”
Even close to home, Breckinridge found opposition. Samuel Annan, a physician at the alms house, and an elder at the Third Presbyterian Church of Baltimore (he had left Second Church shortly after Breckinridge arrived), had testified in court that Breckinridge had misconstrued the whole affair. Breckinridge replied with a savage attack in his magazine. After dragging Annan’s character through the mud in an open letter, Breckinridge concluded, “May the Lord Jehovah judge between us, even as he has judged between me and all who have heretofore hated and pursued me for his sake. Yours, in sincere pity, Robert J. Breckinridge.” When Annan defended his conduct in a pamphlet, Breckinridge replied that it was astounding that “he is still a public officer of the Alms House, and as yet is allowed to degrade the name of Ruling Elder in the Presbyterian church.”
D. The Rise of the Protestant Associations
While Protestants in general, and Presbyterians in particular, had always opposed the spread of the doctrines and practices of Rome, the level of that opposition fluctuated in proportion to their sense of the immediacy of the “romish threat.” And in the late 1830s and early 1840s, Presbyterians were increasingly alarmed at the influx of Roman Catholics. A Protestant Association was formed in Baltimore early in 1835 with Old School ministers R. J. Breckinridge and G. W. Musgrave, licentiate A. B. Cross (RJB’s co-editor), and ruling elders John N. Brown, and J. Harmon Brown among those calling the meeting. While Methodists were chosen as president and secretary of the first meeting; Breckinridge was selected as corresponding secretary, the only permanent officer of the Association. After that group disbanded, Breckinridge helped found “The Society of the Friends of the Reformation” in 1843, together with the Evangelical Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, Episcopalians and German Reformed in Baltimore.
That same year saw the formation of the American Protestant Association in Philadelphia. Old School Presbyterians were at the fore: C. C. Cuyler was chairman of the initial meeting, while Henry A. Boardman served as corresponding secretary. Lay directors from the Old School included Samuel Agnew and Joseph A. Davidson. The initial statement of the association warned that the spread of Romanism in England, Scotland and America suggested that there was a conspiracy at work. Since most Roman Catholic clergy were foreigners, “bound by their oath of office to ‘defend and keep the Roman Papacy and the royalties of St. Peter, against all men,’” they could not be faithful American citizens. “We see them boasting that they hold the balance of political power. . . a party governed by a foreign head, guided by priests the greater part of whom are not naturalized citizens, and impelled by sympathies at war with our republican institutions.” With the Leopold Foundation in Austria, “under the patronage of Prince Metternich, a prime friend of despotism and Popery, for the purpose of propagating Romanism in this country,” and the well-publicized attempts to plant “large colonies of Papists in our Western States,” it seemed clear to them that Rome was trying to take over the Mississippi Valley, and eventually the United States. In support of their claims that Roman Catholicism was a threat to American liberties, they quoted from the “Encyclical Letter of August 15th, 1832,” of Gregory XVI (the reigning pope) regarding republicanism:
From that polluted fountain of indifference flows that absurd and erroneous doctrine, or rather raving, in favour and in defence of ‘liberty of conscience,’ for which most pestilential error, the course is opened by theat entire and wild liberty of opinion which is every where attempting the overthrow of civil and religious institutions; and which the unblushing impudence of some, has held forth as an advantage of religion. . . . From hence arise these revolutions in the minds of men, hence this aggravated corruption of youth, hence this concept among the people of sacred things, and of the most holy institutions and laws; hence in one word, that pest of all others most to be dreaded in a State, unbridled liberty of opinion.
Since Gregory had also condemned “that worst and never sufficiently to be execrated and detested liberty of the press,” and “the zeal of some to separate the church from the state, and to burst the bond which unties the priesthood to the Empire,” the American Protestant Association believed that they had good reason to be concerned about the massive immigration that now threatened to change the shape of the United States. Therefore they promised that they would oppose Romanism by the dissemination of the truth. They insisted that they would not interfere with the religious aspects of Romanism, but would rather defend the civil and religious liberty of the United States. While the American Protestant Association was a nativist organization in one sense, it was a theological brand of nativism that objected to Rome’s particular definition of the church.
Most Old School newspapers hailed this organization as a timely step in combating Roman Catholic “aggression.” Breckinridge, on the other hand, wondered why it took them so long to see the danger and scorned their lack of battle “scars.” Still he rejoiced in this new interdenominational effort, proclaiming: “Look to your ways, ye vassals of Rome. Look to your ways, ye Jesuits; haters of liberty, of truth, and of righteousness. For verily, it is no longer a solitary man who stands forth to defy and to resist you.” Breckinridge believed that “the great revival of the spirit of the Reformation” throughout the world would be God’s instrument in bringing about the “predestinated ruin” of the Roman Catholic “Antichrist.”
E. The Explosion of Anti-Catholic Periodicals, 1844-45
As Irish immigration increased dramatically in 1844-45, anti-catholic measures increased as well. In the fourteen months between January of 1844 and February of 1845, no less than five anti-catholic periodicals were started by Old School Presbyterians in the south and west–in some cases in conjunction with ministers from other denominations.
Figure 3.1. Anti-Catholic Newspapers Started by Old School Editors in 1844-1845
Date Title Place Old School Editors
1844 Herald of Religious Liberty St. Louis, Missouri Hiram Chamberlain
1844 True Catholic Louisville, Kentucky William L. Breckinridge & Edward P. Humphrey
1844 New Orleans Protestant New Orleans, LA J. B. Warren & Session, 1st Pbn Ch New Orleans
1844 Jackson Protestant Jackson, Tennessee A. A. Campbell
1845 Western Protestant Cincinnati, Ohio Nathan Lewis Rice
Neither the Jackson Protestant nor the Western Protestant survived a year of publication, as Campbell’s death ended his enterprise, and Rice merged his paper with the True Catholic after nine months, assuming a portion of the editorial responsibility for the joint paper. The other three originally attempted to engage some assistance from ministers of other denominations, but only the True Catholic (1844-1847) was able to sustain the effort as an interdenominational Protestant paper. The Herald of Religious Liberty and the New Orleans Protestant gradually became denominational papers, and were renamed the St. Louis Presbyterian (ca. 1849) and the New Orleans Presbyterian (1847) respectively.
The True Catholic was first issued at Louisville on May 1, 1844, as a bi-monthly “devoted to the exposure of popery, and the spread of religion, liberty and knowledge.” Its editors, drawn from the Old School Presbyterian, Methodist Episcopal, and Baptist churches declared that “the West is to be the arena, where the great principles of civil and religious liberty are to be asserted, against their haughty and imperious foe.” Because they attribute salvation to “the grace of God, justifying the sinner through faith in His Son,” and accept “the rule of faith and life” as the scriptures alone, “the evangelical churches are, in truth, the exponents of the Catholic or universal faith. . . . He who maintains these principles as they are taught in the word of God, and whose heart and life are in conformity thereto, is a True Catholic.”
The editors wanted to be fair to Rome. Therefore they decided to avoid reprinting much of the Protestant literature about Rome, but tried to rely on the official statements of the Roman Church. They hoped that by revealing the official teaching of Rome, they would demonstrate that they were not the enemies of Roman Catholics, but their best friends, revealing “the monstrous system by which they are enslaved.” In doing so they sought to imitate, or even improve upon such periodicals as R. J. Breckinridge’s now defunct Baltimore Literary and Religious Magazine (which, perhaps, is not surprising, since his younger brother, William, was one of the True Catholic’s editors).
Besides historical documents, the True Catholic regularly engaged in sparring with Roman Catholic periodicals in the region. When the Catholic Advocate and the Catholic Herald argued that the United States had no religion, and therefore “ought to have no religious functionaries,” such as chaplains, the True Catholic replied that the United States was in fact a Protestant country. The Continental Congress in 1774 had complained about Roman Catholic power in Canada, fearing that they “might become formidable to us, and on occasion, be fit instruments in the hands of power to reduce these ancient, free, Protestant colonies to the same state of slavery with themselves.” Citing several other decisions of congress from the 1780s, the editors declared, “We are not a nation without a religion. . . . However hard it may be, Papists will have to learn that this is still a Protestant country.”
In January of 1845, the True Catholic reported the resolutions of the Maysville Protestant Association. The Reverend Robert C. Grundy (PTS 1835, Old School pastor at Maysville, and corresponding secretary of the society) had presented five resolutions declaring that the United States was a Protestant country, but that the same privileges should be extended to Roman Catholics“which are enjoyed by other citizens and are guaranteed to every religious sect and denomination by the American Constitution, so far as they are willing, in common with all Protestants, to renounce all allegiance to any foreign power and unite with us in promoting and perpetuating our free institutions.”
When the Catholic Advocate of March 1 objected to these resolutions (since they implied that if Roman Catholics did not renounce the pope, they should not be tolerated), appealing to the Constitutions of the United States and of Kentucky regarding religious liberty, Grundy replied by appealing to the papal encyclical of August 15, 1832, where the pope had spoken against those who wish “to separate the Church from the State, and to burst the bond which unites the Priesthood to the Empire. For it is clear that this union is dreaded by the profane lovers of liberty, only because it has never failed to confer prosperity on both.” Grundy wondered that any honest Roman Catholic could
consistently belong to a church the highest authority of which openly and unblushingly, in this day, advocates the union of Church and State, and at the same time profess to believe, approve and be governed by the constitution of the United States and of Kentucky upon this subject? Did the Editors of the Catholic Advocate, the Bishop and Priests of Kentucky and of the United States, repudiate the Encyclical letter of 1832, or will they do it now?
Grundy admitted that he had many Roman Catholic friends who would fight and die for their American liberties, but insisted that they did so contrary to the plain teaching of the Roman Church. Since Pope Gregory XVI had declared in his encyclical that liberty of conscience was an “absurd” and “raving” doctrine, Grundy professed to be utterly unable to understand how the Catholic Advocate could reconcile its loyalty to Rome with the United States Constitution.
F. Religious Riots and the Rise of the Know-Nothings
The constant fuel of anti-Catholic periodicals merely fed the fires of religious and ethnic mistrust which exploded in the mid-1840s in religious riots in Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and other cities. While political issues were plainly at work as well, contemporary accounts often emphasized the religious division of the rioters.
On May 3, 1844, the Kensington district of Philadelphia erupted in violence. A meeting of the Native American party was assailed by a Roman Catholic mob, which resulted in a week of rioting, during which several people were killed. Tensions remained high in Philadelphia, and July 4th celebrations touched off another wave of riots. The grand jury (which consisted largely of Protestants) determined that “the efforts of a portion of the community to exclude the Bible from our Public Schools” had given rise to a new party (the Native American, or Know-Nothing party) which held peaceful public meetings. They had been fired upon by “a band of lawless, irresponsible men, some of whom had resided in our country only for a short period,” which resulted in immediate retaliation, escalating into several weeks of mob rioting in the city. Nonetheless, while asserting that the original fault lay with the Roman Catholics, the Presbyterian press quickly denounced Protestant rioting as well. The True Catholic insisted that no matter how offensive the discussion may be, “every true American” should defend the right of free deliberation. Reason, not force, is the power of the nation. Therefore, when it became clear that the Native Americans were continuing the rioting in Philadelphia, the editors soundly condemned it, and urged the magistrates to deal swiftly with them. The Presbyterian of the West described the continued rioting as a “disgrace to Protestantism.”
But when Bishop Hughes of New York claimed that it was his restraining influence in New York that prevented Irish Catholics from erupting like those in Philadelphia, the True Catholic responded with alarm: “A word from you, then, or even the withholding a word, might have wrapped our dwellings in flames, and deluged our streets with blood.” If Hughes had the power to restrain or command the thousands of Irish Catholics in New York, “then I say, sir, we have reason to be alarmed both at the increased power and numbers of romish foreigners, and the growing influence of Romish priests.”
Ten years later, after the First Plenary Council of American Catholic Bishops met in Baltimore in 1852, declaring the common schools “irreligious” and calling for a parochial school system, the fires of religious hatred were unleashed once again. When Roman Catholic bishops requested state funds for their schools, religious riots broke out in St. Louis and Newark in 1854, and in 1855 Louisville and Cincinnati were engulfed in violence. While historians initially attempted to downplay the religious aspect to these riots, Tyler Anbinder has acknowledged the place of religion in the formation of the Know-Nothings. Contemporary observers, such as William Engles, suggested that religion and race were equally involved. Engles spoke from the perspective of an Old School Presbyterian church that was divided politically. If a group as large as the Roman Catholic population attempted to vote as a bloc, they could soon hold “the balance of power” in the United States. No matter how much he might deplore the violence, Engles was convinced that Protestants would not stand for this, but would “drive them from their usurped and arrogant position; nor need it be wondered at, that in the heat evolved from the combination of excitable political and religious elements, violence should sometimes ensue, however much to be deprecated.” Nathan Rice, though, was concerned that “in a number of instances highly respectable Americans have countenanced or participated” in the riots. Protestant violence was inconsistent with his idealized vision of what Protestantism should be.
The Presbyterian Herald reported religious riots surrounding the election of 1855 in Louisville. William Hill reported that the riot between the Democrats and the Know-Nothings had resulted in the murder of 14-15 citizens, the wounding of 30 others and the destruction of 15-20 houses, “most of them of but little value, being generally Irish shanties.” But once again the riots followed on Protestant/Catholic lines. Indeed the Pittsburg Catholic accused various Protestant newspapers of fomenting the riots through their anti-Catholic articles: “the sectarian press. . . in the hands of designing parsons, who are bursting with rage at the diffusion of the Catholic faith, becomes specially virulent on the eve of any scene of excitement, political or religious.” William Hill replied that “The readers of Protestant religious papers are not generally found among mobs of riotous men.” Pointing to genuine “acts of kindness and love” by which Louisville Presbyterians had fed and clothed Roman Catholics devastated by the riots, Hill argued that his readership desired to convert Roman Catholics through persuasion and love, not violence. When the Pittsburg Catholic claimed that the Presbyterian Herald was merely the tool of the Louisville Know-Nothings, Hill pointed out that the rhetoric went both ways. The editor of the Pittsburg Catholic had written that Protestants were “damnable heretics” whose views led inexorably to “licentiousness in both church and state.” If that was true, Hill asked,
Does it follow, as a consequence, that he holds that Protestants ought to be shot down in the streets or roasted alive in their dwellings?. . . . It is certain that his church has held and taught that doctrine in past days, and her boast is that she never changes; but he must excuse us if we protest against any such inference being deduced from such premises by Protestants.
Hill reminded his Roman Catholic counterpart that he had taken no role at all in the political debates that led up to the riots, while the Roman Catholic papers had taken partisan stances.
Few Old School editors ever revealed their political affiliation, but their occasional comments on the Know-Nothings suggested that many were sympathetic to their concerns. William Engles, in the wake of the Philadelphia riots, applauded the Native American’s push for a 21 year residency requirement before naturalization. He feared that Irish immigrants were trying to “take advantage of the present unwise naturalization laws,” in order to take control of the country. Ten years later, in the wake of the 1854 riots, the True Witness exulted in Know-Nothing victories in the southwest. Blaming the riots on the Jesuits, the news editor declared that “The time has passed when Popery can impose on Americans as a mere harmless system of religion. It has revealed its cloven foot. It has shown its despotic spirit, and if it is resolved to make its public assaults on Protestantism, it must expect retaliation.” Stuart Robinson’s Presbyterial Critic contained the most impassioned support for the “American Party,” insisting that the heart and soul of the American revolution was a threefold combination of “American nationality; Protestant civilization; National Union.” Only the American Party sought to put an end to the assaults of “Papal and Infidel foreigners” upon the Protestant civilization of the American Union. While such foreigners could come to America to enjoy civil and religious freedom, he insisted that they be prohibited from ruling. “Americans must rule America.”
3. The General Assembly Debate
It was at the height of the anti-catholic movement, in May of 1845, that the Old School General Assembly was called upon to render its verdict: was Roman Catholic baptism a valid administration of Christian baptism? The Presbytery of Ohio (whose newest member was Robert J. Breckinridge) had asked the Assembly to determine whether the baptism of the Church of Rome was valid. Debate continued through portions of three days, before coming for a vote.
While many from the older generation had participated in this debate in the 1830s, such as Richards, Barnes, Alexander, Miller, Green, and Spring, the one name that stands out as the moving force in the debate was Robert J. Breckinridge. He had been one of the leading speakers in 1832, arguing against the validity of Roman baptism–but as a young ruling elder, his voice did not yet carry much weight. But by 1845 he was serving as president of Jefferson College, and had thirteen years of pastoral experience in Baltimore, the capital of Roman Catholic influence, and for nine of those years he had edited one of the leading anti-Catholic monthlies. While Breckinridge was not a commissioner at the 1845 Assembly, his influence was felt through his fellow Kentuckian, Nathan Lewis Rice (pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Bardstown, Kentucky–and editor of another leading anti-Catholic paper, the Western Protestant, 1835-1841). With the older generation in retirement, Breckinridge and Rice now sought to curb what they saw as the disturbing rise of Roman Catholic influence in the United States.
A. Debate at the Assembly
Predictably, the first argument was rooted in the 1835 decision. Rev. Nathan H. Hall (pastor of 1st Presbyterian, Lexington, KY, and one of the leading revival preachers in the Old School) argued that since the 1835 Assembly had decided that the Church of Rome was not a Church of Christ, the answer was easy: Roman baptism is not Christian baptism. Dr. Nathan L. Rice (pastor of Central Presbyterian in Cincinnati) agreed. Lay baptism was not recognized by the Presbyterian church, but baptism by Roman Catholic priests was far worse. Rev. James M. Olmstead (pastor at Flemington, NJ) argued that Rome was a “Society, but of the most corrupt kind, and therefore has neither lawful ministry, nor ordinances, and consequently her administration is not valid.” Rev. Samuel J. Cassells of Norfolk, Virginia, argued that to be consistent with the Westminster Confession, the church had to reject Roman baptism. While we welcome “the children of oppression” to America, we must bear decisive testimony against the Romanist error that they bring. “The practice of the Reformed churches on this subject has been entirely inconsistent with their creed. They have renounced Rome as Anti-christ, but receive her baptism as if she were a church of Christ!”
Others were less confident of these arguments. Judge Robert C. Grier of Pittsburgh warned that the Assembly “ought not to decide this question hastily. . . . As there are other Churches who admit the validity of baptism by Roman Catholics we must give reasons to satisfy them, as well as our own people.” Dr. John C. Lord also had objections:
It was admitted by those who spoke in favor of the motion, that the baptism of Luther was valid, and he wished to be informed why that which was valid in the 12th or 16th century was not valid in the 19th. . . . We allow the validity of the administration of ordinances by those not regularly authorised when necessity of circumstances called for it. . . . Now we know that there are parts of the church of Rome which are less corrupt than others. . . . In all such cases, at least we, I think, are bound to admit the validity of their administration, and we cannot discriminate without great danger of running into difficulties.
Arguing from exceptions, however, was not very compelling.
Rice replied that the Westminster Confession taught that the validity of baptism does not depend upon the piety of the minister, but upon his authority to administer the sacraments. Comparing Rome to the Jewish institutions prior to the time of Christ, Rice argued that “the ordinances in [the Jewish] church were valid notwithstanding its corruption, and continued to be until the death of Christ, when all were commanded to come out. . . . The Jewish church was thereafter no church and had no ordinances, and consequently all their administrations were invalid.” After the Council of Trent, Roman ordinances were likewise invalid.
Still, Dr. Lord was not convinced. Those who authored the Westminster Confession accepted Roman baptism, even after the Council of Trent. Further, “Baptism was not the act of the Pope, but of a particular Priest or individual. Every case ought to be judged on its own merits.” In reply, Rice asked Lord whether he regarded the Church of Rome as a true church. The whole controversy depended on this question. And since the General Assembly had decided that the Church of Rome was not a true church, the question of their baptisms should be settled. He then gave a brief sketch “of the various doctrines of the Church of Rome, which obscured the doctrines of the cross. When all these doctrines were forced upon her members by the Council of Trent, then she ceased to be a true church.” A few others feebly attempted to reply, but no one at the 1845 Assembly took the high ground that Samuel Miller had taken ten years before. Since they accepted the premise that the Roman Catholic church was not a church, they were forced to argue only that “some” Roman Catholic baptisms were valid–depending upon whether the individual priest was sound. This was analogous to the Donatist position in the early church that had been repudiated as schismatic.
Having maintained silence since early in the debate, the Rev. James H. Thornwell of South Carolina heard his cue and rose in reply: the real question was “shall one body claiming to be the church of Christ recognise the ordinances of another body claiming to be the Church, which it does not acknowledge to be such.” And if this was the question, then the answer was obvious. “This question has been settled by at least five provincial councils, and always in the same way, viz: adverse to the recognition of such baptisms. We stand therefore upon the platform of the Ancient Church; and I hope this Assembly will come unanimously upon the same ground.” Thornwell admitted that “it is historically certain that the warmest opposers of Rome did not, as our own Assembly has done, utterly repudiate her, as a dead branch, destitute of all living connexion with the vine. But, Thornwell argued, since the Old School Assembly of 1835 had unchurched Rome, there could be no question of the validity of Roman baptism. Thornwell defended the action of 1835 by arguing that Rome lacked the three marks of the Church of Christ. First, since the Council of Trent the Roman Church had openly repudiated the saving truths of the doctrines of grace. Indeed, Thornwell went so far as to argue that
the Trinity of Rome is officially a different Trinity from ours. She baptises into one gospel--we into another--she baptises into a system of will-worship--we into a system of grace--she into a system of frightful superstition and gross idolatries--we into a system in which God is worshipped in spirit and truth Hence if a profession of the true faith is any part of the essence of baptism--is at all indispensable to its legality--Rome's baptism is essentially defective and unlawful.
Second, Thornwell claimed that Rome lacked sacraments as well because of its “physical system of salvation. . . . There are no sacraments--no symbols conducting the mind to Christ.” Third, by transforming the sacraments into “a physical system of salvation, making the Eucharist into mystic sacrifice,” Rome has “thus transformed her ministry into a Pagan priesthood.” Therefore Rome is not a church, but anti-christ, a civil State, “drawing the resources of her government from Heaven, Earth and Hell.” And being a civil State, Rome has no more right to baptise than any other State whatever. Therefore Romish baptisms are invalid since they are “an act of enslavement; not a sacrament of the Church.”
Replying to those who were concerned to maintain the validity of the Reformers’ baptisms, Thornwell argued that baptism wasn’t really that important:
Baptism is so far from constituting the ground of membership in the church that it can only be administered to those who are members already. . . . It, therefore, does not make, but declare membership, and he who has never been baptised may be truly and really, though not regularly, a member of the church of God.
Rejecting the doctrine of apostolic succession in every sense, Thornwell argued that the validity of any church or its ordinances does not depend upon “an unbroken succession of ministers reaching back to the age of the apostles,” because perpetual visibility is not a mark of the true church. “The promises of permanent security and unfailing protection are made not to the visible but the invisible church of the Redeemer.” So even if the papacy had become a synagogue of Satan before the Reformation, and all her sacraments thereby invalidated, that would not be a matter of concern for us. The validity of the Reformed churches, therefore, depends not upon Rome, but Christ. Thornwell concluded his tour de force by claiming to have “no enmity to the Church of Rome, but I wish a complete separation from the mother of harlots and mistress of abominations.”
After this performance, the General Assembly was persuaded. While there had never been any doubt as to the outcome of the vote, now it was nearly unanimous. The initial count was 169-6 (with 4 non liquets). Revs. William T. Hamilton, James H. Thornwell, and George Junkin were assigned to write the minute for the Assembly. They returned a week later with a summary of the leading arguments from the debate. Predictably, the minority of eight responded with a dissent, arguing that some remnant of the church remained inside of Rome, and therefore that at least some of her baptisms were valid.
The initial response in the newspapers was quite positive. An author in the Presbyterian Advocate explored how this decision would affect those who had already been received on the basis of their Roman baptism. He suggested that “if the session and the convert are entirely clear in the conviction that the ordinance administered by the priest is real and true baptism, 'let not their heart be troubled.' If they are even mistaken, baptism is not regeneration, nor will such a mistake endanger the salvation of the soul.” Likewise, if a person wished to be rebaptized, “what is the harm?”
The only caution was expressed by William Swan Plumer in the Watchman of the South, who noted that “one side of the question was argued with spirit and power. The other was not. Wherever the truth may lie, discussion will do good. For many years our views have coincided with the decision of the Assembly, but we are ready to hear all that can be said on the subject. . . . If the Assembly has made a wrong decision, let it be made to appear.”
Naturally, Roman Catholics were none too pleased with the decision–and for more than strictly theological reasons. The Catholic Telegraph warned that if the Assembly had “power equal to their animosities, they would be dangerous enemies.” In an address to the “Catholic Fathers and Mothers of America,” the editor urged Roman Catholics to understand “what the Calvinistic preachers would have you believe, and what from the tenor of their speeches they appear most anxious to establish. They would consign your babes whom God has called away, to everlasting flames! Have you hearts? Can you feel? Can there be any communication between you and Calvinism?”
B. Hodge Versus the Assembly
The minority at the Assembly had argued their case based on the claim that a remnant remained within Rome. Since they conceded the claim that Rome, as a body, was not a church of Jesus Christ, Thornwell had destroyed them. Charles Hodge, professor of exegetical and dogmatic theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, would not make the same mistake.
In his annual review of the General Assembly, he launched a vigorous attack on the position that the Assembly had taken. Hodge admitted that “we feel almost overwhelmed by such a vote. Any decision of the General Assembly is entitled to great respect, but a decision sustained by such a majority, almost imposes silence on all dissentients.” Almost. Hodge agreed with Plumer that only one side of the debate had been heard. We “question the wisdom of giving an answer suddenly, in opposition to all previous practice, and to the principles of every other protestant church. The fact that the answer is new, creates a reason for being slow to pronounce it.”
Hodge started by reminding his readers that valid baptism is baptism with water in the name of the Trinity. Heretical baptism had always been accepted by the church, so long as it was Trinitarian baptism. Hodge cited the Council of Arles, from 314 A.D., which determined that “If any one return from his heresy to the church, let the Catholic priest question him about the creed; and if they perceive that he was baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, only the imposition of hands shall be given him, that he may receive the Holy Ghost. But if upon examination, he answers not the Trinity, (that is, that he was not baptized in the name of the Trinity,) let him be rebaptized.”
Therefore, Hodge argued, the validity of baptism “depends upon the appointment of God, and not upon the character or faith of the administrator; and therefore, any baptism which is administered according to His appointment, the church has felt constrained to admit to be baptism.” The General Assembly, Hodge hinted, had unwittingly reduced baptism to a mere rite of the church–not a divine act. Quoting the Westminster Confession, Hodge argued that the “doctrine of our standards, therefore, is the precise doctrine of the ancient church, viz., that there are three things essential to baptism; the matter, form, and intention. The matter, is the washing with water; the form, washing in the name of the Trinity; the intention, not the popish notion of the secret purpose of the priest, but the professed, ostensible design of the act.” If this is the case, then there can be no question that Romish baptism is indeed Christian baptism. Rome washes with water, teaches the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, and intends it as a sensible sign of spiritual blessings. The fact that it adds numerous other rites and corrupting doctrines cannot eliminate the validity of its baptisms. According to both Romanists and Protestants “by baptism we are formally constituted members of the visible church, and partakers of its benefits. The great difference relates not to the design of the ordinance, but to the mode and certainty with which that design is accomplished, and the conditions attached to it.” If we require a proper doctrine of baptism in order to accept its validity, then we would have to reject Lutheran, Anglican and Orthodox baptisms as well, which would bring the unthinkable result that “Presbyterians, instead of being the most catholic of churches, and admitting the being of a church, wherever we see the fruits of the Spirit, would become one of the narrowest and most bigoted of sects.” Returning one of the most stinging rebukes imaginable in the mid-19th century, Hodge claimed “Indeed we cannot but regard this sudden denunciation of Romish baptism, as a momentary outbreak of the spirit of Popery; a disposition to contract the limits of the church, and to make that essential to its being and sacraments, which God has never declared to be necessary.”
Having demonstrated to his satisfaction that papal baptism was valid in its form, Hodge turned to the arguments against it. Hodge claimed that the arguments presented to the Assembly merely proved that Roman baptism was irregular–but that did not demonstrate invalidity. Hodge admitted that the Confession taught that baptism should be administered by one “lawfully ordained,” but pointed out that the Confession says the same regarding preaching. Lay preaching, as with lay baptism, is irregular and ought not happen. But that does not render such things invalid. “A thing is valid when it avails to its appropriate end. Thus a deed is valid, which avails to convey a title to property; a marriage is valid, which avails to constitute the conjugal relation.” Does Romish baptism “avail to make the recipient a professing Christian”? The Assembly’s position declares that “Though a sincere believer should be baptized by a Romanist, such baptism would not signify or seal to him the benefits of the new covenant, nor express his purpose to obey Christ.”
Willing to grant, however, for the sake of argument, that valid baptism required an ordained minister, Hodge then turned to the question of the validity of Roman ordinations. While Presbyterians might consider Roman ordinations to be irregular, that does not destroy their validity. A lawfully ordained heretic is still recognized as a minister of Christ’s church until he is deposed. Rejecting Thornwell’s claim that the ministry is one of the marks of the church as “one of the Popish principles which have slid into the minds of some Protestants,” Hodge argued that “a church is a congregation of believers, or of those who profess to be believers. . . . The being of a church does not depend upon the ministry.” But if ordained ministers are simply men “appointed by public authority to teach the Christian religion, and to administer its ordinances,” in a body “professing to hold saving doctrine,” then the only way to deny Roman baptism is to deny that Romanists “do not in any sense profess the Christian religion any more than Jews or Pagans.”
Finally, Hodge turned to what had been the strongest argument at the Assembly: that “The church of Rome is not a true church of Christ, and therefore its sacraments are not Christian ordinances.” He considered this to be “only another of the innumerable instances of fallacy and false reasoning founded upon the ambiguity of the word church.” The question “What is a true church? resolves itself into this: How little truth may avail to salvation? This is a question we are hardly competent to answer, and there is no need of answering it. We can tell what is a pure church; and with that standard we can compare our own and all others, and regulate our intercourse with them accordingly.” Unfortunately, Hodge pointed out, the Assembly gave a definition of a pure church, and then declared “that any community not embraced in that definition, to be no church. Thus it is said, a church is a congregation of believers in which the pure word of God is preached; the pure word of God is not preached in Rome, therefore Rome is not a church.” While the logic was impeccable, the premises were flawed. “Any body of men that professes truth enough to save men, cannot on the ground of heresy be denied the character of a church.” If Presbyterians really believed their confession that there is no ordinary possibility of salvation outside the visible church, then “any religious body in communion with which men may be saved, is a part of the visible church; otherwise men are saved out of that church. The visible church, therefore, according to our standards, consists of all those who profess saving truth.” Some at the Assembly, however, had argued that Rome did not retain enough truth to save the soul–yet admitted that there were true believers inside the Roman church. Such a claim, Hodge declared, was absurd.
They retain the doctrine of the Incarnation, which we know from the infallible word of God, is a life‑giving doctrine. They retain the whole doctrine of the Trinity. They teach the doctrine of atonement far more fully and accurately than multitudes of professedly orthodox Protestants. They hold a much higher doctrine as to the necessity of divine influence, than prevails among many whom we recognise as Christians. They believe in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and in eternal life and judgment.
Indeed, Hodge suspected that Rome retained more of evangelical doctrine and true religion than most of the Protestant churches in Europe during the eighteenth century declension!
Therefore, while it could be denied that Rome was a church in one sense (she was not a pure church), it should be affirmed that Rome was a church in another (she was still a society that professed faith in Jesus Christ as the divine Son of God. Claiming that this was the stance of the Reformers, and of all the Protestant churches of Europe and America, Hodge agreed that Rome was “antichristian and apostate, the mystical Babylon, from which the people of God are commanded to withdraw.” And yet “viewed in a different light, the church of Rome is still a church, just as the apostate Israelites were still the covenant people of God.” She is a corrupt and apostate church, but she is still a church. If Roman Catholics
are no part of the visible church, then the Romish hierarchy is not "the man of sin" spoken of by the apostle, for he was to rise and rule in the church. It is, therefore, one thing to denounce the Romish system, and another to say that Romanists are no part of the church catholic. And if they are in the church, their baptism being a washing with water in the name of the Trinity, is Christian baptism; just as the word of God, when read or preached by them, is still his word, and is to be received and obeyed as such.
Ironically, the designation of the pope as the antichrist resulted in the guarantee of the validity of Roman baptism.
Hodge could not bypass Thornwell’s claim that Romish baptism constituted a child a papist. This, in Hodge’s view, was an egregious misunderstanding of baptism, analogous to the Puseyite error. To be baptized by a Presbyterian did not constitute a child a Presbyterian, but a catholic Christian. “The church Catholic is not an organized society.” As an act of God, baptism brings a person into the visible church–and only incidentally enrolls them in a particular society of Christians. Baptism is not “an ordinance of any particular church, but of the church catholic.” Hodge was desperately trying to maintain a strong sense of catholicity–but he could only do so by blurring the distinction between the visible and the invisible church, distinguishing between the visible church and any particular organization.
Hodge recognized that in the current religious climate, he would be misunderstood. “We have heretofore had the misfortune to be held up as the friends of drunkenness, and the advocates of slavery, because we could not believe that alcohol is sin, and every slave‑holder a thief and we fear that even good men may now regard us as the apologists of Popery, because we cannot think that a community who believe that Jesus is the Son of God, who worship the Trinity, who hold that we are justified by the merits of Christ, and are sanctified by his Holy Spirit, are to be placed in the same category with Pagans and Mohammed ans.” But he could not turn aside from the path of duty. “And we are constrained to say, that as the cause of temperance and the interests of the slave, suffer greatly from the extravagance of their advocates, so we fear the cause of Protestantism suffers materially from the undiscriminating denunciations heaped upon the church of Rome, and from transferring the abhorrence due to her corruptions, to her whole complicated system of truth and error.”
C. The Response to Hodge
The church was astonished. Letter after letter poured into the weeklies expressing disagreement or disgust with Hodge’s “brazen” attempt to overturn one of the most nearly unanimous decisions the General Assembly had ever made. “No Popery” wrote to the Presbyterian Herald that Princeton was arrogantly arraying itself against the Assembly, which was not fitting for a professor who held his position from the Assembly! Thornwell’s logic overruled Hodge’s distinctions, as “No Popery” dismissed the distinction between regular and valid, and insisted that the servants of antichrist could not administer Christian baptism.
In Virginia, William Swan Plumer reprinted Hodge’s review of the Assembly’s decision in full, but commented that the editors of the weeklies were all siding with the General Assembly–except the New Orleans Protestant (the Presbyterian newspaper in New Orleans) which argued that the General Assembly decision was wrong:
1. Because it exalts a mere external ordinance to a degree of importance that we think does not belong to it. . . . 2. [it] places the essentials of a valid baptism upon a wrong basis. We suppose that the validity of baptism does not depend upon the moral character and intentions of the administrator, but upon the character of the recipient, and the using of water in the name of the Holy Trinity, by a regular ministry. If there is anything in succession necessary to valid baptism, we think the decision of the Assembly suicidal. . . . 3. We think there was no occasion for the action of the Assembly. . . . We do not see how it is to do any good to the Presbyterian Church, or the Protestant cause. Nor can we conceive how it will do our Romish neighbors any good. . . . We should be heartily engaged in laboring for the conversion of the world, rather than in legislating about the forms of the church.
This statement betrays a rather unsophisticated blend of low church evangelicalism oddly mixed with the traditional Presbyterian version of apostolic succession. Not surprisingly (as was often the fate of statements from New Orleans) it received no attention from any of the western or northern papers.
The Watchman and Observer (the merger of the Watchman of the South and the Charleston Observer in Richmond in 1845 under Benjamin Gildersleeve) immediately took a harder line than Plumer had taken in the Watchman of the South. Gildersleeve claimed that Hodge’s article “has done more for Rome than a dozen from their very ablest open defenders.” Gildersleeve kept a steady stream of different authors objecting to Hodge’s position from September through November of 1845, culminating in Thornwell’s refutation (see below) in the spring of 1846.
The Pittsburgh area was one of the few that resonated with Princeton to some extent. The Synod of Pittsburgh, meeting in October of 1845, considered the Assembly’s decision too “hasty and inconsiderate” but neither adopted nor rejected its position. Nonetheless, the synod did declare that presbyteries were not obliged to implement the Assembly’s position, which would confound “constitutional rules with occasional declarations,” and called for more discussion on the topic.
Likewise the Pittsburgh paper, the Presbyterian Advocate found more voices friendly to Princeton than elsewhere in the South and West. While “An Old Presbyter” objected to Princeton’s views, SR (possibly the retired minister, Dr. Samuel Ralston of Pittsburgh) defended Princeton, arguing that the church of God was designed to “embrace not only males and females, but sinners and saints, or true believers–sinners, that they might become saints by the blessing of God in his own ordinances.” Certainly Rome is the harlot Babylon, but there “are some saints in her pale, and this is consonant to that view which we have given of the church of God.” God has brought some of his people into Rome “by baptism, that they might be 'born of water and of the Spirit,' according to the promise of Christ.” If the Jews remained the covenant people in the midst of their idolatry and wickedness in the days of the kings, then Rome could also be considered a part of the visible church. SR suggested that the tendency to limit the visible church to “visible saints alone, or to those who come to the Lord's table,” was moving Presbyterians toward a more Baptistic view of the church. SR was even willing to argue that “unregenerate, but awakened adults, like the Jews on the day of Pentecost, if of good moral character, ought to be brought into the visible church by baptism if they desire the privilege.” He recognized that his was a minority opinion, but feared that the majority was seeing the results of a faulty understanding of the church.
While the Presbyterian sided with Princeton on most matters, William Engles was horrified by Hodge’s attack on the Assembly. When Theophilus (George Junkin) began a series against Hodge, Engles was delighted. To say that Antichrist is a “church of Christ, and that the validity of its ordinances is to be recognized by the Protestant church, is to indulge charity at the expense of judgment.”
D. Thornwell’s Reply to Hodge
In March of 1846, after the initial furor had subsided, James Henley Thornwell launched a counterattack in reply to Hodge in the Watchman and Observer. Thornwell proposed to show: 1) that the essential elements of baptism did not belong “to the Popish ordinance”; 2) that if Rome is not a church, then it has no valid sacraments; and 3) that the testimony of the Protestant world was really against Hodge’s position. In fact, Thornwell silently dropped his third point, never citing an advocate of rebaptizing Roman Catholics.
First, Thornwell argued that the Roman practice departed so far from Christ's command that there could be no true baptism in the Roman rite. He granted that water and the triune name were present, but he denied that there was a minister of the gospel present: “the water must be applied by one who is lawfully commissioned to dispense the mysteries of Christ.” Following an Aristotelian causal argument, he claimed that “there must be an instrumental, as well as a material and formal, cause.” Therefore, Thornwell asked, "Do [Romish] priests wash with water in the name of the Trinity, with the professed design of complying with the command of Christ, and are they themselves to be regarded as lawful ministers of the Word?”
Thornwell claimed that the Roman rite was erroneous in all four respects. The water that they used was mixed with oil, and Thornwell suggested “1. That the oil destroys the fitness of water for the purpose of ablution, and so affects the significance of the rite; and 2. That mixture is not used as water, but that peculiar stress is laid upon the foreign element.” Thornwell had the integrity to admit that Augustine demonstrated that this practice was of ancient origin, and hence was forced to suggest that the “real sacrament of baptism” may have been completely lost during the patristic period. This, however, did not trouble Thornwell in the least. “The unbroken transmission of a visible Church in any line of succession is a figment of Papists and Prelatists. . . and if our fathers were without the ordinances, and fed upon ashes for bread, let us only be the more thankful for the greater privileges vouchsafed to ourselves.”
Second, with respect to the form of baptism, Thornwell claimed that the invocation of the Trinity in baptism was only valid where a proper relation to the covenant of grace was involved: “To baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit is not to pronounce these words as an idle form or a mystical charm, but to acknowledge that solemn compact into which these glorious Agents entered, from eternity, for the redemption of the Church.” Faith in the Trinity, rather than pronouncing the names of the Persons, is the central focus of baptism.
He, therefore, that would undertake to prove that the Romish ceremony possesses the form or the essential elements of Christian baptism must not content himself with showing that Rome baptizes in the name of the Trinity. He must prove, besides, that she inculcates just views concerning the nature of the relationship which the outward washing sustains to the covenant of grace; that her conceptions of the covenant itself, that to which the ablution has reference, are substantially correct; and that she employs the outward elements in conformity with the conditions prescribed by the Author of the sacrament. If she is fundamentally unsound upon any of these points, she abolishes the essence of the ordinance, she destroys its form.
Appealing to Calvin, Owen, and others, Thornwell argued that “there can be no doubt that, whatever she have professed in words, she did in fact deny them to be signs, and consequently changed their relations to the covenant of grace, and made them essentially different things from what Christ had appointed.” The resultant mechanical theory of salvation is so far from the apostolic doctrine that Roman baptism cannot be regarded as a species of Christian baptism at all. Hence Hodge errs to say that Rome agrees with us regarding the nature of the sacraments: “She teaches that they are causes of grace, and we that they are signs.” Realizing that this position could be taken as condemning Lutherans and Episcopalians, Thornwell quickly backtracked and argued that the ex opere operato doctrine is what vitiates the Roman rite.
Further, Thornwell claimed that since baptism is a “badge of Christian profession” if Roman baptism is valid baptism, then Roman profession of faith must also be valid, since baptism signifies and seals the covenant of grace. Since Rome denied the Gospel, its adherents should not be considered Christians (except in the same sense as Pelagians, Arians, Universalists, and Socinians). “If her Gospel is not the Gospel of Christ, her religion not the religion of the Son of God, her baptism cannot be that which He instituted.”
The question between Hodge and Thornwell, as Thornwell saw it, was whether “a man may. . . be a sincere Papist, and still be a spiritual child of God.” Thornwell was convinced that “whatsoever of the Gospel she retains is employed simply as a mask to introduce her errors without suspicion.” Her creed (which he took to be that of Pius IV, including the decrees of Trent) is not a saving creed. Whereas Hodge insisted that the Spirit could only work through the Church, Thornwell argued that the Spirit could also work “amid Hindoo temples and Indian pagodas, in the darkest chambers of imagery, as well as the congregation of Christian people. . . . He works as well out of the Church as in the Church.” And wherever he works, there “is a membership in the invisible Church; but it is an act of the believer, subsequent to his conversion, and founded upon it, to seek a corresponding membership in that visible congregation to which the ordinances are given.”
After an exhaustive attempt to demonstrate that every last vestige of Augustinianism had been rooted out of the official teaching of the Roman church from the 16th-18th centuries, Thornwell concluded that“it is the prerogative of God alone to search the heart, and He may detect germs of grace in many a breast which have never ripened into the fruit of the lips. But I do confidently assert that no man who truly believes and cordially embraces the Papal theory of salvation can, consistently with the Scriptures, be a child of God.”
E. Hodge’s Manifesto
After reading the first few articles from Thornwell’s pen, Hodge issued his final statement. Since Roman baptism fell within the boundaries defined by the Westminster Standards, Hodge refused to budge.
He opened by connecting the same sorts of simplistic answers of his interlocutors with what he saw with abolitionists and “ultra temperance” men. Rather than allow for qualifications and distinctions, these extremists “deal in what is called plain common sense, repudiating all metaphysical niceties.” In the same way, those denying that Rome is a part of the visible church simply point out that Rome is antichrist, the mystical Babylon, and the mother of harlots. Therefore Rome cannot be part of the visible church. But for Hodge, this was far too simplistic. If the church is defined as “a society in which the pure word of God is preached, the sacraments duly administered, and discipline properly exercised by legitimate officers. . . [then] we must exclude all but orthodox Presbyterians from the pale of the church.” Instead, Hodge pointed out that when Turretin and other Reformed authors refer to “a true church” they are referring to an orthodox or pure church. Hodge demonstrated that Turretin had affirmed that the Roman church was a Christian church--at least in external form--and had retained valid baptism. Therefore, if one meant by the “church of Rome” simply the papacy, then Rome is not a church, but apostate. But if one defined the “church of Rome” as the company of professing Christians adhering to Rome, then Rome is indeed a church. Hodge rightly suspected that the New England Congregational definition of the church had crept into the Presbyterian church, resulting in a failure to understand the historic Presbyterian distinction between a true church and a pure church.
In conclusion, Hodge addressed the question of whether Rome taught enough of the gospel so that a person could be saved. While affirming the standard Protestant claim that Rome confused justification and sanctification, Hodge pointed out that we are not saved by our doctrinal formulations, but by the grace of God. Since Roman Catholics truly believe the Nicene Creed, they plainly believe the Christian faith. Being riddled with heresy and idolatry did not erase Rome as a church. Hodge reminded his readers that the Jewish church in the Old Testament was frequently overrun by errors, yet never ceased to be the people of God.
The same month that Hodge’s essay appeared in the Princeton Review, the Presbyterian published a defense of Hodge by “Frederick” who replied to Theophilus, and perhaps Thornwell’s early essays as well. He insisted that a valid baptism does not have to conform exactly to the New Testament.
In his first essay he printed the entire Roman Catholic baptismal rite in the Presbyterian and pointed out that all the extra ceremonies were designed to signify various spiritual truths, and were expressly declared by the catechism of the Council of Trent to be non-essential to the validity of a baptism. Further, if such emblems sufficed to invalidate Roman baptism, then Episcopal baptism must also be rejected because Episcopalians added ceremonies as well.
Second, however “ruinous” Roman Catholic doctrine might be, it built on an orthodox Trinitarian baptism. Urging Protestants to be fair to their opponents in debate, Frederick insisted that both Presbyterians and Roman Catholics agreed that baptism aims at “saving effects, remission of sins, and sanctifying grace. Again; they agree that these effects are conditional; and conditional not only on the due administration of the baptism, but, in case of adult baptism, on moral qualifications in the person to be baptized. Lastly, they agree that the original source of the effects is the atoning work of Christ, and their primary cause, the influence of the Holy Ghost.” They disagreed, however, when Roman Catholics insisted that “baptism is the direct channel of grace.” But Frederick could not see how the church could rebaptize someone who had come to understand the true meaning of the baptism received while in the Roman church.
Frederick argued that Roman Catholic priests remained ministers of the gospel because ordained to the ministry of word and sacrament. While admitting that Rome embraced grave and dangerous errors, he concluded that rejecting Roman Catholic baptism logically required the rejection of Episcopal, Arminian and Baptist baptisms as well. He knew that many of his readers were asking: why take the time and energy to defend “against a Protestant decision, so vile a church as Rome?” He replied that the truth demanded it. If we bring false charges against others, they “will be confirmed in thinking all our charges equally untenable.” Concerned that Protestants too often condemned before truly understanding their Roman Catholic neighbors, Frederick urged the church to be more careful in its polemics against Rome.
One of the main arguments used by those who opposed the General Assembly’s decision was the fact that no other Reformed church had rejected Roman Catholic baptism. In 1854 the Free Church of Scotland debated the question. While some prominent ministers agreed with the Old School, the Free Church followed the historical argument of Dr. William Cunningham who used arguments like Hodges to defend the Church of Rome as a church of Christ, even though headed by the Antichrist. The majority of the Old School was disappointed with this decision. One commentator declared that “Antichrist's body is not an 'erring sister' of the true Church,” and he denied that “the Man of Sin, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, can administer Christ's ordinances.” But Cunningham, in reviewing Hodge’s arguments in the British and Foreign Evangelical Review declared Hodge’s position simply obvious to British Protestants.
While the Old School as a whole remained unmoved by Hodge’s arguments, they convinced most in the northeastern region. Samuel Irenaeus Prime commented after Hodge’s death:
We recall a case in which the General Assembly, after one of the ablest debates ever held on its floor, came to a decision on an important ecclesiastical question (Romish Baptism) with almost entire unanimity. Dr. Hodge reviewed the decision in the 'Princeton Review' with such masterly power, as to set back the opinions of the Church, and hold it on the other side to this day. And to us this power of his appears the more wonderful, as we believed then, and do now, that he was wrong, and the Assembly was right.
Prime claims that Hodge convinced the “church,” but the western and southern conversations throughout the 1850s and 1860s do not support that claim. Nonetheless, given Hodge’s sway in the Philadelphia-New York corridor, Prime probably spoke accurately regarding the churches in his sphere of influence.
It is no accident that the leaders of the Old School’s rejection of Roman Catholic baptism, R. J. Breckinridge, James H. Thornwell, and Nathan L. Rice, all played prominent roles in the Protestant movement that sought to define Roman Catholicism as a threat to American religious and political liberty. Protestant baptism symbolized entrance not only into the Christian church, but also into a Protestant political identity.
But by the 1830s other Protestants were leading the way. In 1839 the Watchman of the South reported in an article from the Protestant Vindicator that every one of the 135 converts from Romanism through the American Reformation Society requested Christian baptism in a Protestant church. It appears that the American Reformation Society was convinced of the invalidity of Roman baptism. WS 3.5 (September 25, 1839).
The Assembly had been asked “If baptisme administrat be ane papist priest, or in the papistical manner shall it be reiterat?” They had answered:
When sic children come to years of understanding, they should be instructed in the doctrine of salvation, the corruption of the papistrie might be declared unto them, whilk they most publickly damne, before they be admitted to the Lord's table, whilks if they doe there needs not the external sign to be reiterat; for no papist ministers baptisme without water, and some forme of words, whilks are the principalls of the external signe; we ourselves were baptized be papists, whose corruptions and abuses now we damne, cleaving only to the simple ordinance of Jesus Christ, and to the veritie of the Holy Ghost, whilk makes baptisme to work in us be the proper effects thereof, without any declaration of the external signe. If sic children come never to the knowledge of trew doctrine, they are to be left to the judgment of God.
Samuel J. Baird, A Collection of the Acts, Deliverances, and Testimonies of the Supreme Judicatory of the Presbyterian Church (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1856) 80, quoting from the Booke of the Universal Kirk, 41. In 1856 Samuel J. Baird published his highly-acclaimed Assembly’s Digest, which provided a topically arranged collection of all of the official acts of the highest court of the Presbyterian Church since 1706. In a couple of instances he also provided Scottish background for a decision, including the question of Roman Catholic baptism.
Noll, America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002) 376-379.
The committee consisted of Dr. Samuel H. Cox (professor at Auburn Theological Seminary), Dr. Nathan S. S. Beman (pastor at First Presbyterian, Troy, NY), and Robert J. Breckinridge (at that time a ruling elder from Kentucky on his way to Princeton Theological Seminary) .
Minutes (1832) 364, 373. “General Assembly,” Presbyterian 2.18 (June 13, 1832) 71. This committee consisted of Dr. Archibald Alexander (professor at Princeton Theological Seminary), Dr. James Richards (professor at Auburn Theological Seminary), Dr. George Baxter (professor at Union Theological Seminary in Virginia), Beman, and Dr. Robert G. Wilson (president of the University of Ohio, Athens)
Minutes (1833) 408. This committee was Archibald Alexander, Samuel Miller (both professors at Princeton Theological Seminary), Ashbel Green (retired president of the College of New Jersey and editor of the Christian Advocate), Breckinridge (now pastor of 2nd Church, Baltimore, Maryland), Albert Barnes (pastor of 1st Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), Gardiner Spring (pastor of Brick Church, New York City), Thomas McAuley (pastor of Murray Street Church, New York City), and Robert McCartee (pastor of Canal Street Church, New York City).
The context will be discussed shortly.
“General Assembly,” Southern Religious Telegraph 14.26 (June 26, 1835) 103.
“General Assembly” Southern Religious Telegraph 14.26 (June 26, 1835) 103. “Proceedings of the General Assembly,” New York Observer 13.25 (June 20, 1835) 98.
Minutes of the General Assembly (1835) 33. The concern regarding education was echoed by later Assemblies in 1841 and 1849, the latter Assembly declaring that those who sent their children to Roman Catholic boarding schools, where they would be required to attend mass, were guilty of violating their vows to train up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, but suggested admonition as the only discipline required in most cases. The concern appears to have been widespread, since many parts of the country lacked any decent educational system, and Roman Catholic schools were sometimes the only school in the neighborhood (see chapter five). From 1841-1852 the Assembly appointed one of its members to preach on the papal controversy during the Assembly (Minutes, 1841, 432). The 1852 Assembly discontinued the practice as not having any real practical benefit.
Southern Christian Herald 4.8 (May 19, 1837) 31. Later that year at least one presbytery would engage in a debate on the question of Roman baptism. “Presbytery of Bethel,” CO 11.51 (December 23, 1837) 201.
The Old School periodicals occasionally debated the question of how far to extend communion. The most common stance was stated by Nathan Rice “The Church of Christ is ONE; yet it exists in a number of different denominations differing in points of doctrine and polity more or less important, but agreeing in all that is essential to salvation and to the validity of the ordinances. . . . Every believer in Christ, who has been baptised in the name of the holy Trinity, and is in connection with an evangelical church, has complied with all the Scripture requisitions in order to an approach to the Lord's table; and we dare not keep him back. . . . ” P&H (November 19, 1840). But others, such as David Monfort of Indiana, argued that such intercommunion allowed Methodists to come to the Presbyterian table on Sunday and then try to steal Presbyterian members away on Monday (he then added, “I should not allude to these things were they not common.”) He suggested that Presbyterian churches should require communicants to affirm all the distinguishing tenets of Calvinism. If the church could suspend disorderly members, could it also suspend disorderly branches of the church? “Catholic Communion,” P&H (April 29 & June 24, 1841). Monfort was one of the few ministers in the West who still used communion tokens, allowing those from other churches to partake of the Supper “who are willing to fellowship them in worship and duty, and to submit to the order of the Church.” P&H (October 21, 1841). His brother was a minister in the Associate Reformed church, a denomination that only permitted its own members to partake of the table. In reply, Nathan Rice emphasized the distinction between irregular and invalid. Other denominations might have irregular practices, but this did not render their ordinances invalid. “Catholic Communion Defended, No 1,” P&H (July 8, 1841).
In 1790 the Assembly declared that they would recognize the ordinances of any other church that they recognized as Christian. In 1814 they unanimously rejected Unitarian baptism because they did not accept Unitarians as truly Christian. See Baird, 75.
Baird, 76. The Assembly declared “That while those persons styling themselves the Cumberland Presbytery were under suspension, their administrations are to be considered invalid; but after the General Assembly have declared them to be no longer connected with our Church, their administrations are to be viewed in the same light with those of other denominations not connected with our body.” From Minutes (1825) 275.
Presbyter, CO 13.46 (November 16, 1839) 181-182.
A similar position would be taken by James Hoge, James Culbertson, and William Wylie in their report to the Synod of Ohio urging the acceptance of Oberlin baptism. “Baptism by Oberlin Preachers” Presbyterian Advocate 5.4 (October 26, 1842).
Presbyter, CO 13.46 (November 16, 1839) 182. In this particular case the Synod eventually relented and the matter never came to the General Assembly.
“Campbellite Baptism,” Presbyterian of the West (March 8, 1849).
“Socinian Character of Campbellism,” Presbyterian Advocate (Jan 21, 1846)
Transylvania Presbytery, “Report on the Validity of the Baptism administered in the Reform or Campbellite Body” Presbyterian of the West 27.46 (May 13, 1858).
Minutes (1864) 316. There was not much significant debate on the point. In 1871 a committee of Robert L. Dabney, Thomas E. Peck, John B. Adger, and George Howe reported to the southern General Assembly that invalid baptism occurs when a church apostatizes, or by the utter change or corruption of the element and doctrine of the sacrament. On both scores, Rome has no baptism. The Campbellites were so varied in their beliefs that since some of her baptisms were invalid, and the church could not tell which were which, therefore the church should rebaptize all. (Alexander's Presbyterian Digest, 346). By 1882 the question of Campbellite baptism had been referred to the judgment of the session.
Another question arose in the newspapers with respect to whether Quakers could be admitted to the Lord’s Table, since Quakers did not practice baptism at all. Nicholas Murray of Elizabethtown said that he would admit a Quaker to the Table who was evangelical in belief, but this was generally condemned. One response insisted that since baptism is the sacrament of admission into the visible Church, there could be no warrant for admitting an unbaptized person to the Table. “We think the principle stated by Dr M. is an unsound one, and one that tends to unscriptural latitudinarianism.” “Should Unbaptized Persons be Admitted to the Lord's Table,” PH 28.14 (Sept 30, 1858).
Linda Colley, Britons, Forging the Nation 1707-1837 (London: Bath, 1992). Some of the recent literature on anti-Catholicism has been surveyed by Marjule Anne Drury, “Anti-Catholicism in Germany, Britain, and the United States: A Review and Critique of Recent Scholarship,” Church History 70:1 (March 2001) 98-131.
Thomas Saunders Kidd, “From Puritan to Evangelical: Changing Culture in New England, 1689-1740,” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Notre Dame, 2001).
Tyler Anbinder, Nativism and Slavery: The Northern Know Nothings and the Politics of the 1850 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992) chapter 1.
Ray Allen Billington, The Protestant Crusade 1800-1860: A Study of the Origins of American Nativism (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1938). Jenny Franchot has produced a fine study of Protestant literary engagement with Roman Catholicism, especially in New England. Jenny Franchot, Roads to Rome: The Antebellum Protestant Encounter with Catholicism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994).
R. Bryan Bademan has emphasized the theological importance of anti-Catholicism. Bademan, “Contesting the Evangelical Age: Protestant Challenges to Religious Subjectivity in Antebellum America,” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Notre Dame, 2003) chapter two. See also Leo P. Hirrel, Children of Wrath: New School Calvinism and Antebellum Reform (Lexington: The University of Kentucky Press, 1998) chapter six.
Articles in Protestant newspapers bear out this distinction. Theological and political articles run in almost equal numbers. Billington sees the roots of the “No-Popery” movement in the increasing Roman Catholic immigration in the 1820s, which resulted in the establishment of The Protestant, a weekly anti-Catholic newspaper in New York in 1830. The first two editors were the Rev. George Bourne, and the Rev. William Craig Brownlee, Billington, 53-55.
Robert had succeeded his brother John at Second Presbyterian, Baltimore, in 1832.
“The Rejected Statement To the Public,” BLRM 1.2 (February 1835) 51. In fact, it appears that the Baltimore press was attempting to maintain a tolerant and moderate tone–the dominant position among Baltimore Protestants as well as Catholics for several generations. From their perspective, Breckinridge was as an outsider (from Kentucky) stirring up trouble where none needed to exist.
In 1836, 90 out of the 110 articles in the BLRM were related to the papal controversy, and 84 out of 128 in 1837. But by the middle of 1837, the New School controversy was beginning to make a dent in the anti-Catholic literature. In 1838 only 45 of the 89 articles were on Romanism, while seventeen dealt with the New School controversy, and another nine covered the slavery question. This proportion remained the average for the rest of the papers existence (through 1841), with various Presbyterian debates replacing the New School Controversy by 1840. But this still meant that half the material in the paper was dealing with Rome.
“No Salvation for Protestants!!!” BLRM 1.2 (February 1835) 36.
“Texas, Her Wrongs, and Prospect” BLRM 2.1 (January, 1836) 20.
BLRM 2.3 (March 1836) 104. The following month Breckinridge published Gaston’s refutation of this accusation from the Lexington Gazette, where Gaston claimed that he had no problem affirming the general truth of the Protestant religion. Breckinridge tried to convince the Lexington Gazette to publish his reply to Gaston, insisting that Gaston was defining Protestantism quite differently from any historical definition, but Breckinridge’s letter was so incendiary that the editor replied that it was “of that character, which experience has convinced me cannot be usefully and safely admitted into the columns of a newspaper.” Therefore Breckinridge published the whole exchange in his own paper, concluding:
Oh! how willingly, would I become their [papists] victim, if that might be the means of making my country feel, that every sentiment of patriotism, every emotion of philanthropy, and every principle of true religion, equally impel us to suppress, by all lawful means, this unparalleled superstition, as the enemy alike of God and man.See BLRM 2.4 (April, 1836) 140-148. Edmund Arthur Moore, “The Earlier Life of Robert J. Breckinridge, 1800-1845,” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Chicago, 1932) 108.
“State of Papal Influence” BLRM 2.3 (March, 1836) 105.
A more moderate, but no less firm, approach was taken in the “Kirwan Letters” authored by Nicholas Murray in 1848. Murray had grown up Roman Catholic in Ireland, but had become a Presbyterian after immigrating to New York. Originally published in the New York Observer, the letters were immensely popular and sold over 100,000 copies in their first year (even being reprinted in England and Ireland and translated into German) and were published together as Letters to the Rt. Rev. John Hughes by “Kirwan” (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1851). These letters recount Murray’s own pilgrimage from Roman Catholicism to Protestantism and explain the many reasons why he cannot return. Billington associates this more moderate approach as related to the more genteel anti-Catholicism of the late 1840s. (Billington, 253-254)
The first debate was a written exchange between Breckinridge and Hughes in 1833, which Billington calls “the first important discussion” between representatives of the Protestant and Catholic churches. Other debates include, A Debate on the Roman Catholic Religion. . . between Alexander Campbell of Bethany, Virginia, and the Rt. Rev. John B. Purcell, Bishop of Cincinnati. . . (Cincinnati: J. A. James & Co., 1837); Discussion Held in Lebanon, Pa.,. . . between N. Steinbacher of the Roman Catholic, and J. F. Berg of the Reformed Church (Philadelphia, 1842). Billington, 62. Billington suggests that by 1840 anti-Catholics were convinced that these debates were doing their cause little good (66), but it also appears that Roman Catholics were equally desirous of avoiding the debate forum, because Breckinridge and Rice continued to challenge them to debates.
John Hughes and John Breckinridge, A Discussion: Is the Roman Catholic Religion Inimical to Civil or Religious Liberty? Is the Presbyterian Religion Inimical to Civil or Religious Liberty? (New York: Da Capo Press, 1970/1836). This exchange was reviewed by Joel Jones, a ruling elder from Philadelphia, in “Romanism and Civil and Religious Liberty,” BRPR 9 (1837) 238-66, 326-49, 487-509.
Hughes and Breckinridge, A Discussion, 20.
Hughes and Breckinridge, A Discussion, 62.
Hughes and Breckinridge, A Discussion, 81.
Of course, Breckinridge had argued just that summer at the General Assembly that the Roman Catholic church was not a Christian church (see above), but he was willing to call them “Christian” in the generic sense (and like most Presbyterians, he believed that individual Roman Catholics could be true Christians).
Hughes and Breckinridge, A Discussion, part 2.
“Maria Monk” BLRM 2.8 (September, 1836).
“What Has Become of Maria Monk? from the Protestant Vindicator,” Presbyterian Advocate 1.9 (November 28, 1838).
Charles Anderson Wickliffe (1788-1869) was a member of Rice’s Bardstown congregation. A native Kentuckian and a lifelong Democrat, Wickliffe served in the Kentucky house of representatives for seven years, in the U.S. House from 1823-1833 and from 1861-1863. He was Lieutenant Governor from 1836-39, when he took over as governor after the death of Governor Clark until 1840, and served as U. S. Postmaster General from 1841-1845. Dictionary of American Biography. On Crittenden see below.
“The Mysterious Disappearance” Presbyterian Expositor 1.6 (May 15, 1858) 312.
“Thirty-Four to One” True Catholic 1.5 (July 3, 1844); “The Case of Milly McPherson,” True Catholic 1.6 (July 17, 1844); “The Cruelty of Popery,” Western Protestant 1.1 (February 19, 1845) 6-7.
BLRM 1.5 (May, 1835) 132.
“Our Course for Five Years--Suit of Mr. Maguire” BLRM 6.1 (January 1840). The original story was in the BLRM of November, 1839.
Crittenden (1786-1863) was Henry Clay’s lieutenant, and has the distinction of being nominated to the United States Supreme Court by both John Quincy Adams and Abraham Lincoln. Albert D. Kirwan, John J. Crittenden: The Struggle for the Union (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1962). Kirwan notes that Crittenden had forestalled a threatened duel between Breckinridge and his arch-nemesis Robert Wickliffe in 1823 (43).
“The State of Maryland against Robert J. Breckinridge” BLRM 6.5-6 (May & June, 1840)–a double issue. William C. Preston (1794-1860) was born in Philadelphia, graduated from South Carolina College in 1812, and settled in Columbia. He served in the South Carolina legislature (1829-1834), and the United States Senate (1836-1842), and served as president of South Carolina College (1845-1851). Breckinridge had married his sister, Ann Sophonisba Preston, in 1823. (James H. Thornwell was a professor at South Carolina College during Preston’s presidency, and was also his successor in the presidency).
William C. Brownlee to Robert J. Breckinridge, April 4, 1842, cited in Edmund Arthur Moore, “The Earlier Life of Robert J. Breckinridge, 1800-1845” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Chicago, 1932) 114-118. Other congratulations came publicly from Benjamin Gildersleeve, editor of the Charleston Observer, who thought that the trial would do good to educate both Protestants and Roman Catholics regarding the tyrannical authority of the priesthood. “The Baltimore Trial,” CO 14.8 (April 11, 1840) 30.
Brownlee to Breckinridge, April 4, 1842, cited in Moore, 114-118.
“Letter to Samuel Annan, M. D., One of the Physicians at the Alms House,--a Ruling Elder in the Third Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, &c.” BLRM 6.8 (August, 1840). It is interesting, though hardly surprising in this case, that Breckinridge used the periodical press, rather than the church courts, to deal with Annan. Breckinridge was the most notorious exception to the Old School rule that idea–not persons–should be attacked. Breckinridge was known for his sharp-tongued attacks, at one point being called “the Robespierre of the Presbyterian Church,” which Breckinridge himself reported. Breckinridge, “An Humble Defence for Speaking Truth and Doing Good,” BLRM 5.8 (August, 1839) 358.
“Review of the Pamphlet of Samuel Annan,” BLRM 7.3 (March 1841) 126.
As early as 1834 the New York Observer was warning against the machinations of the Leopold Society, formed in 1829 to further the spread of Roman Catholicism in the United States. “Popery in the United States,” New York Observer 12.3 (January 18, 1834) 10.
BLRM 1.5 (May, 1835). It is worth noting that Breckinridge and Musgrave were pastors of the Second and Third Presbyterian Churches in Baltimore. John C. Backus, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church seems not to have been involved. New York had seen the emergence of several anti-Catholic societies in 1834-1836 (Billington, 95-97).
Billington also mentions the “domineering” tone that Roman Catholic clergy sometimes adopted in America which alienated Protestants. (289-314)
“American Protestant Association,” Presbyterian 13.2 (January 14, 1843) 5-6.
William Engles commented that three years before, Philadelphians would have objected, but now “The sentiment is daily gaining ground among all classes, that it is time for American Protestants to unite for the purpose of repelling the aggressions of the Papal Hierarchy upon our civil and religious liberties.” “Great Protestant Movement,” Presbyterian 13.2 (January 14, 1843) 6; WS 6.28 (March 2, 1843). One articles that attempted to document the Roman Catholic plans to take over portions of the United States was “Popish Colonization,” Presbyterian 12.47 (Nov 19, 1842) 186.
Robert J. Breckinridge, “Important Movement in the Evangelical Churches of the City of Baltimore,” Spirit of the XIXth Century 2.5 (May, 1843) 307-311. Quotations from pages 310-311. Also his short notice of the Address of the Board of Managers of the American Protestant Association 312-313.
Since most of these papers do not seem to have been preserved, either in whole or in part, I have drawn on the most successful paper, the True Catholic (preserved in its entirely at the Presbyterian Historical Society), along with the Western Protestant (located at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary). Billington also points to other anti-Catholic papers started between 1841-1845 in Baltimore (the Saturday Visitor), in Albany (The Reformation Defended Against the Errors of the Times), in Philadelphia (Protestant Banner) and in Cincinnati (The American Protestant)
 By the end of 1846, however, the market for anti-catholic newspapers was dwindling. While sporting a circulation of over 3,000, the True Catholic admitted that fewer than half had paid their subscriptions that year. The paper was “temporarily” suspended in February of 1847 to allow the new editor, the Rev. Archy B. Lawrence, to drum up further subscriptions, but it was never heard from again. True Catholic 3.17 (February 1, 1847). Lawrence was an Old School minister who seems to have been very interested in editing–given his association with numerous southwestern papers–but not very good at it. He was the final editor of the New Orleans Observer 1838-40, before it sold out to the Watchman of the South. He edited the Bible Witness in Nashville, Tennessee, for six months in 1845 before merging into the Presbyterian Herald in Louisville. He temporarily assisted William W. Hill with the Presbyterian Herald in 1845-46, before some unnamed disagreement between them led to his silent departure. He assumed the reins of the True Catholic in November of 1846. Its demise three months later seems to have been his last editorial failure. Part of the reason for the demise of the anti-catholic papers was the fact that the Old School weeklies regularly reprinted what they considered the best of the anti-catholic literature in their columns. The Presbyterian Advocate of Pittsburgh, for instance, continued regular weekly articles against Rome (versus the papacy, transubstantiation, the saints, the morals of the Jesuits, Bishop Hughes, worship of the Virgin Mary, etc.) throughout most of 1844-45. After 1846, however, the anti-catholic literature in the weeklies dropped off considerably.
The masthead of the paper. The True Catholic initially drew most of its readership from Kentucky, with smaller circulation in Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, and Mississippi, but eventually developed a circulation fairly evenly distributed through those states as well as Georgia and North Carolina. Total subscription by the end of 1846 had reached 3,000, but since nearly half their readers did not pay on time, the paper was discontinued. (The one subscriber from New Jersey was Samuel Miller, professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, who praised the True Catholic for its fairness).
“Introductory” True Catholic 1.1 (May 1, 1844).
See also N. L. Rice, “The Western Protestant,” Western Protestant 1.1 (February 19, 1845) 5, where Rice promises not to engage in denominational polemics between Protestants, but will focus his attention on the “Romish controversy.”
“Has This Nation Chosen a Religion?” True Catholic 1.3 (June 5, 1844).
True Catholic 1.18 (January 15, 1845).
R. C. Grundy, “The Maysville Resolutions” True Catholic 1.23 (April 2, 1845). Grundy gave the quotation from Pope Gregory XVI in full, as it is cited above in the American Protestant Association’s statement. Roman Catholics were engaged in trying to answer this question in their own intramural discussions. See John T. McGreevy, Catholicism and American Freedom (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2003).
Cf. Billington, 193-234. Michael Feldberg reports at least thirty-five major riots in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston between 1830-1860, The Turbulent Era: Riot and Disorder in Jacksonian America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980) 5; Mary P. Ryan, Civic Wars: Democracy and Public Life in the American City in the Nineteenth Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997).
The American Republican party had remarkable success in New York and Philadelphia in the election of 1844. Billington calls the “continuation of the Bible as a schoolbook,” a minor reform in the American Republican platform, focusing on the twenty-one year residency requirement for naturalization, but that appears to be more due to his own prejudice than any suggestion on the part of the American Republicans themselves. (202-3)
The riot has been described by Vincent P. Lannie and Bernard C. Diethorn, “For the Honor and Glory of God: The Philadelphia Bible Riots of 1840,” History of Education Quarterly 8.1 (Spring, 1968) 44-106, especially pages 73-87; Michael Feldberg, The Philadelphia Riots of 1844: A Study of Ethnic Conflict (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1975) chapters 5-7. See also Billington, 220-234. Predictably Billington focuses more on the political aspect, though he does not neglect the religious entirely. He points out that the Philadelphia riots severely damaged the reputation of the American Party, whose political hopes would arise once again with the Know-Nothings a decade later. (234) Feldberg, in the wake of the ethnic conflicts of the 1960s and 1970s attempts to portray the 1840s riots as primarily ethnic.
Presbyterian newspaper accounts varied somewhat in their accuracy, and naturally sympathized with the Protestants: “Riots and Bloodshed in Philadelphia,” CO 18.20 (May 18, 1844) 78; “The Reign of Terror in Philadelphia,” CO 18.22 (June 1, 1844) 86; “The Philadelphia Riots,” CO 18.28 (July 13) 110; “Roman Catholic Murders in Philadelphia,” True Catholic 1.4 (June 19, 1844); True Catholic 1.5 (July 3, 1844).
True Catholic 1.6 (July 17, 1844). This is in stark contrast to the editor of the Native American, who declared “We now call on our fellow-citizens, who regard free institutions, whether they be native or adopted, to arm. Our liberties are now to be fought for;–let us not be slack in our preparations.” (Quoted in Billington, 225). Old School Presbyterians had a far stronger sense of the rule of law and deplored all vigilante justice. (See chapter ten for William A. Scott’s encounter with vigilantes.)
“More Riots in Philadelphia” Presbyterian of the West 3.20 (July 11, 1844) 86. The occasion for the renewed violence was the claim “that arms and ammunition, to a considerable amount, had been found in a Catholic church (St Philip's), which caused great excitement.” (According to the report there were 75 muskets, 1 keg powder, flasks, balls, slugs and shot; 10 pistols and 12 bayonets). After a disturbance on July 5th where Irish Catholics burned the American flag and destroyed some tents used by the Native American party in their July 4th celebration, the Native Americans launched an attack on St. Philip’s on July 6-7th, which was finally dispelled by the military (leaving 13 dead and 50 wounded).
“Bishop Hughes as a Peace Officer” True Catholic 1.5 (July 3, 1844). For a social history of Catholicism in New York City, see Jay P. Dolan, The Immigrant Church: New York’s Irish and German Catholics, 1815-1865 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975).
St. Louis Presbyterian 11.3 (Sept 14, 1854), see also November 23, 1854 and August 5, 1855.
Tyler Anbinder, Nativism and Slavery: The Northern Know Nothings and the Politics of the 1850s (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992) x-xi; 24-32. John T. McGreevy, Catholicism and American Freedom (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2003). McGreevy points to the back-to-back speaking tours of Louis Kossuth (a failed Hungarian revolutionary) and Alessandro Gavazzi (a nationalist supporter of Garibaldi’s 1848 revolution) around 1850, both of whom fueled anti-Catholic fervor (23-25). Especially infuriating to American Protestants was the arrival in 1852 of the papal nuncio Gaetano Bedini to settle trustee disputes–who was infamous in America as the ruthless military governor of the Papal States who had put down the revolutionaries of 1848. He was met with violence and riots in several cities, finally being chased from the country in 1854. Anbinder also emphasizes the failure of the Whig Party after the Compromise of 1850 and the widespread dissatisfaction with both the Whig and Democratic parties. Anti-Catholicism and anti-slavery briefly joined forces in the Know-Nothing party, but ultimately anti-slavery proved more powerful, resulting in the triumph of the Republican party. Also see John David Bladek, “America for Americans: The Southern Know-Nothing Party and the Politics of Nativism, 1854-1856,” (Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Washington, 1998).
Not surprisingly, he blamed Archbishop Hughes and his Freeman’s Journal as the chief culprit. He “has not been slow to perceive his power, and to take advantage of it.” Editorial, “Religio-Political Riots,” Presbyterian 24.34 (August 26, 1854) 134. William E. Gienapp cites the Methodist Governor of Indiana, Joseph A. Wright, as claiming that the state fusion convention (of Know-Nothings and Republicans) consisted of more than a hundred Methodist Preachers and at least 27 Presbyterians. Gienapp, The Origins of the Republican Party, 1852-1856 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987). He also points out that Indiana Presbyterians switched from Democrat to Peoples (fusion) in 1854.
Editorial, “Mobs,” St. Louis Presbyterian (May 3, 1855)
“Election Riots and Mob Law in Louisville,” PH (August 9, 1855).
“The Riots Accounted for at Last,” PH (August 23, 1855).
“The Pittsburg Catholic and the Louisville Riots,” PH (Sept 13, 1855). Of course, Protestants had plenty of political newspapers to advocate their views, while Roman Catholic newspapers often had to provide both political and religious commentary.
“The Know-Nothings,” Southern Presbyterian 8.4 (November 9, 1854). The author said that he did not belong to the party, but he agreed that all American citizens should have American interests. The most prominent Presbyterian Know-Nothing was R. J. Breckinridge (see Edgar C. Mayse, “Robert Jefferson Breckinridge: American Presbyterian Controversialist,” (Ph.D. dissertation, Union Theological Seminary in Virginia, 1974) 519-526. For the origin of the Know-Nothings, see William E. Gienapp, The Origins of the Republican Party, 1852-1856 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987); Tyler Anbinder, Nativism and Slavery: The Northern Know Nothings and the Politics of the 1850s (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992); and Dale T. Knobel, “America for Americans”: The Nativist Movement in the United States (New York: Twayne, 1996). Billington argues that the Know-Nothings were successful in the south and border states because “it was a compromise party” between the Whigs and the Democrats on sectional grounds, “not because it promised to protect America from the Pope.” (394) Billington assumes that because the south did not have many Roman Catholics, that it must therefore be a non-issue to southerners. But given southerners concern about the moral and constitutional “decline” of the North–they had good reasons to vote for a party that might stem the tide of Roman Catholic and “infidel” influence in the North. See John David Bladek, “America for Americans: The Southern Know-Nothing Party and the Politics of Nativism, 1854-1856,” (Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Washington, 1998).
“Roman Catholic Policy,” Presbyterian 14.31 (August 3, 1844) 122.
This came from the news summary in the True Witness (Oct 19, 1854). Richmond McInnis, the senior editor, backed away from this statement, insisting that it was the position of the paper that all political and religious organizations should be tolerated. But the news reports were not under his control (most Old School editors allowed their publishers to insert the news summaries). “Our Position--Religious Toleration,” True Witness (Oct 19, 1854). After moving to New Orleans, McInnis still reflected a moderate tone, calling for a treatise that would treat “the various errors of Romanism in a kind, conciliatory tone,” as the only sort of volume that could be persuasive to Roman Catholics themselves.
“The American Party. Its Cause, Progress, Objects and Result,” Presbyterial Critic 1:5 (May, 1855) 219. These southern advocates of the Know-Nothing cause vindicate John David Bladek’s revision of Tyler Anbinder’s thesis that the southern Know Nothings shared little with their northern counterparts. Bladek points out that while relatively few Roman Catholics immigrated to the South, many southerners “saw foreigners and Catholics in league with corrupt politicians as the primary danger to the American republic. (Bladek, 7-8). And southern cities did in fact see significant immigrant populations (15). Anti-Catholicism was a strong bond between north and south–one which the Know Nothings attempted to exploit in their attempt to create a national party, but failed due to the explosive issue of slavery. (56, 133-138)
Ibid., 222. Another author wrote in reply “The American Party,” Presbyterial Critic 1:6 (June, 1855) 277-286. He insisted that not all foreigners should be lumped together (and he pointed out that the Mormons were Americans), and suggested that the secret meetings of the Know-Nothings were every bit as unAmerican as the machinations of the “papists.”
Besides Nathan L. Rice and James H. Thornwell, few of the leading pastors or professors were in attendance at this General Assembly. John C. Lord (pastor of First Church in Buffalo, NY), John M. Krebs (pastor of Rutgers Street Church in New York City), Alexander T. McGill (professor in Western Theological Seminary), George Junkin (president of Lafayette College), James Wood (professor in New Albany Theological Seminary), Drury Lacy (pastor at Raleigh, NC), William T. Hamilton (pastor at Government Street Church in Mobile, AL) and John T. Edgar (president of the University of Nashville) were the leading ministers of the 1845 General Assembly. The most notable ruling elders were Walter Lowrie of New York City (corresponding secretary of the Board of Foreign Missions), Judge Humphrey H. Leavitt of Steubenville, Judge Robert C. Grier of Pittsburgh (who would be appointed the following year to the United States Supreme Court), and Williamson Dunn of Indiana (one of the founders of Hanover College and New Albany Theological Seminary). Princeton Seminary was most notably absent.
Minutes (1845) 15, says Ohio Presbytery (along with most papers), but Watchman of the South mistakenly says Columbus Presbytery–8.41 (May 29, 1845) 161.
BLRM 1-7 (1835-1841); Spirit of the XIXth Century 1-2 (1842-1843).
The Western Protestant merged with the Western Presbyterian Herald in 1838 to form the Protestant and Herald with Rice and R. J. Breckinridge’s brother, William L. Breckinridge, as co-editors.
“Debate in Presbyterian General Assembly” WS 8.41 (May 29, 1845) 162.
“Speech of Rev. S. J. Cassels” WS 8. 44 (June 19, 1845) 176.
“Debate in Presbyterian General Assembly” WS 8.41 (May 29, 1845) 162.
Rev. Thomas Aitken (pastor of 1st Presbyterian Sparta, NY) replied that there were countries where good men and priests still served in the Roman church, who did not accept the decrees of Trent. Judge Robert Grier pointed out that there were already many in the Presbyterian church who had been baptized as Roman Catholics. Would they have to be rebaptized, after their session had formerly accepted their baptism? “Debate in Presbyterian General Assembly” WS 8.41 (May 29, 1845) 162.
Thornwell appealed to the Councils of Carthage in 215, of Iconium in 235, and of Carthage in 256.
“Baptism by Papists” WS 8.46 (July 3, 1845) 181.
“Baptism by Papists” WS 8.46 (July 3, 1845) 182. Hodge would later point out that “defective and unlawful” did not mean “invalid.”
“Debate in Presbyterian General Assembly” WS 8.41 (May 29, 1845) 162.
“Baptism by Papists” WS 8.46 (July 3, 1845) 184.
“Debate in Presbyterian General Assembly” WS 8.41 (May 29, 1845) 162. Thornwell’s speech lasted for several hours, continuing from Saturday afternoon to the Monday morning session. “L” wrote to the Watchman of the South that “the eagerness to hear Professor Thornwell is evinced by the fact that the house was full even before the Assembly was organised. The expectations of the people were not disappointed. He spoke till half-past 11 o'clock, and a more brilliant effort I have never witnessed in any deliberative body. It was really a magnificent affair” (163). Thornwell’s speech was later printed in full, taking up eight columns (nearly a page and a half): “Baptism by Papists” WS 8.46 (July 3, 1845) 181-2, 184.
Minutes (1845) 34. After those who were absent were allowed to add their votes, it stood at 173-8 (with six non liquets).173-8 (with six non liquet). The minority was centered in New York (five of the nineteen commissioners from New York state voted in the minority or non liquet). During the 1840s Presbyterian ministers were regularly titled “bishops.”
Nays Non Liquet
Bishops John C. Lord (Buffalo City) NY Thomas Aitkin (Steuben) NY
William Burton (Chillicothe) OH John Goldsmith (New York 1st) NY
John Hendren (Lexington) KY Joseph T. Smith (Erie) PA
John Warnock (East Alabama) AL
Henry McDonald (Tombeckbee) MS
Elders George Davidson (Albany) NY George W. Burroughs (New Brunswick) NJ
James McNair (Steuben) NY Robert C. Grier (Ohio) PA
Samuel E. Hibben (Chillicothe) OH J. L. Jernegan (Lake) IN
Minutes (1845) 34-7.
Minutes (1845) 37. It is worth noting that immediately after the baptism debate came the decision on the slavery question, which was decided 168-13 (see chapter six). Only ruling elder Samuel Hibben of Chillicothe Presbytery voted in the minority on both questions. One southern observer commented that the debate on Roman Catholic baptism “did much good every way. It had a happy tendency to harmonize the Assembly, and to bring them to great unanimity on other points. The subject of slavery excited much interest. There are but five or six abolitionists in the Assembly. With some of these I have become acquainted. They deserve more our sympathy than our abuse. They seem to be honest, well meaning men; but evidently deluded on this one subject.” “Letters from GA” WS 8.42 (June 5, 1845) 167.
“Romish Baptism” Presbyterian Advocate 7.36 (July 2, 1845).
WS 8.45 (June 26, 1845) 178.
“Dangerous Opponents,” Western Protestant 1.8 (June 4, 1845) 62. Rice replied by pointing out that Presbyterians denied that an infant’s “salvation is effected by their baptism.” Since most Presbyterians believed that all who died in infancy were elect, he argued that this was merely scare-mongering.
It has often been said that Hodge was not particularly strong in church government, especially by those who dislike his stance on the boards controversy around 1860 (see chapter ten). This was first claimed by several contemporaries: “The Church Question,” Presbyterial Critic 1.6 (June, 1855) 245, 249; The Collected Writings of James Henley Thornwell (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1974/1875) IV:243-244. A. Craig Troxel echoes the charge in, “Charles Hodge on Church Boards: A Case Study in Ecclesiology,” Westminster Theological Journal 58 (1996) 203-206. For the most thorough study of Hodge’s ecclesiology, see Mark Alan Reynolds, “Charles Hodge’s Ecclesiastical Elenctics: His Response to Catholicizing Tendencies in the Churches, 1837-1860,” (Ph.D. dissertation, Saint Louis University, 2000).
“The General Assembly” BRPR 17.3 (July, 1845) 445.
“The General Assembly” BRPR 17.3 (July, 1845) 446. Hodge also cited the canons of the Council of Nicea, along with those of Laodecea, Constantinople II, Arles II, and Trullo, appealing to Augustine, Jerome and other early Fathers, along with the Lutheran and Reformed churches–citing Gerhard and Turretin as examples. Hodge translated Turretin’s argument that “Some heretics corrupt the very substance of baptism, as the ancient Arians, modern Socinians, rejecting the doctrine of the Trinity, others, retaining the essentials of the ordinance and the true doctrine of the Trinity, err as to other doctrines, as formerly the Novatians and Donatists, and now the Papists and Arminians. The baptisms of the former class are to be rejected; those of the latter are retained, although they err as to many doctrines, and their baptisms, in circumstantials, are polluted by various ceremonies.” (447)
“The General Assembly” BRPR 17.3 (July, 1845) 448.
“The General Assembly” BRPR 17.3 (July, 1845) 449.
“The General Assembly” BRPR 17.3 (July, 1845) 452.
Confession of Faith 27.4; Larger Catechism 168.
“The General Assembly” BRPR 17.3 (July, 1845) 453.
“The General Assembly” BRPR 17.3 (July, 1845) 456.
“The General Assembly” BRPR 17.3 (July, 1845) 457.
“The General Assembly” BRPR 17.3 (July, 1845) 459.
“The General Assembly” BRPR 17.3 (July, 1845) 462.
“The General Assembly” BRPR 17.3 (July, 1845) 463.
“The General Assembly” BRPR 17.3 (July, 1845) 464.
“The General Assembly” BRPR 17.3 (July, 1845) 467.
“The General Assembly” BRPR 17.3 (July, 1845) 471.
“The General Assembly” BRPR 17.3 (July, 1845) 468.
“The General Assembly” BRPR 17.3 (July, 1845) 464.
“Princeton and Rome vs. the General Assembly I, II” PH 3.46-47 (August 14, 21, 1845).
“Princeton and Rome vs. the General Assembly III, IV, V, VI” PH 3.49-52 (September 4, 11, 18, 25, 1845).
“Romish Baptism from the New Orleans Protestant” WS 8.51 (August 7, 1845) 202. This was also noted in the Presbyterian Advocate (August 13, 1845).
Benjamin Gildersleeve, “Papal Baptism,” Watchman and Observer 1.1 (August 21, 1845) 2.
“On Catholic Baptism,” “Romish Baptism 2-3,” Watchman and Observer 1.11-13 (October 30, November 6, 13, 1845) 42, 46, 50. At the same time, Gildersleeve noted that Baptists were wrestling with the question of whether baptism by unbaptized persons should be considered valid (though, of course, Baptists considered anyone baptized as an infant to be unbaptized). 1.8 (October 9, 1845) 29.
Presbyterian of the West 1.4 (Oct 16, 1845). The synods of South Carolina, Georgia, and a couple of northwestern synods openly concurred with the Assembly, but Pittsburgh seems to have been the only one to refuse to acquiesce. Most accepted it silently.
An Old Presbyter, “Popish Baptism and the Princeton Review,” Presbyterian Advocate (August 13, 20, 1845).
SR, “Roman Baptism,” Presbyterian Advocate 7.48 (Sept 24, 1845). It seems to have been arguments such as this that kept the Synod of Pittsburgh from affirming the Assembly’s decision. (See chapter nine for more on the debates over the status of baptized children).
Theophilus [George Junkin], Presbyterian 16.1 (Jan 3, 1846) 2. Theophilus’ series ran from December 20, 1845 to April 4, 1846.
Thornwell’s review was first published in a series starting in March of 1846: Henley, “The Princeton Review and Popish Baptism” Watchman and Observer 1.29 (March 5, 1846) 113. It was later reprinted in the Southern Presbyterian Review (July, October, 1851, January 1852), and may be found in his Collected Writings of James Henley Thornwell III. (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1986/1875) 283-413.
Thornwell, “Validity,” 284. Anyone relying upon Thornwell’s collected writings should keep in mind that the editor, John B. Adger, silently removed Thornwell’s most vigorous language and softened his rhetoric. See 3:281.
Thornwell, “Validity,” 286.
Thornwell, “Validity,” 292.
Thornwell, “Validity,” 294.
Thornwell, “Validity,” 295.
Thornwell, “Validity,” 295-96.
Thornwell, “Validity,” 296.
Thornwell, “Validity,” 305.
Thornwell, “Validity,” 322.
Thornwell, “Validity,” 329.
Thornwell, “Validity,” 331.
Thornwell, “Validity,” 337.
Thornwell, “Validity,” 338.
Thornwell, “Validity,” 343. Thornwell plainly suggests that the Holy Spirit could use other religions to bring a person to a saving knowledge of Christ (a position he would have to affirm since he believed that Roman Catholicism was in fact an entirely different religion from Christianity), but then insisted that such a person must unite with a Christian (Protestant) church.
Thornwell, “Validity,” 411. The reason why there is no third part of the argument (in spite of the numbering at the beginning of the section) is that while Thornwell had promised to show that the Reformed were against Hodge’s position, he never cites anyone who advocated the rebaptizing of Roman Catholics.
This was intended as a dig against the South Carolinian, Thornwell, who did not care to be associated with abolitionists. “Is the Church of Rome a Part of the Visible Church?” BRPR 18.2 (April, 1846) 222. Hodge concluded with the same refrain: “When one says, we favor intemperance unless we say that the use of intoxicating liquors is sinful; another, that we favor slavery unless we say slaveholding is a sin; and a third, that we favor popery unless we say the church of Rome is no church, they all, as it seems to us, make the same mistake, and greatly injure the cause in which they are engaged.” (244) Unfortunately for Hodge, these sorts of distinctions were increasingly lost on a Presbyterian church that wanted everything in nice, neat categories.
“Is the Church of Rome a Part of the Visible Church?” 224.
“Is the Church of Rome a Part of the Visible Church?” 237.
“Is the Church of Rome a Part of the Visible Church?” 242. In 1869, Pope Pius IX invited all Protestant churches to send observers to the Vatican Council. The Old School General Assembly appointed George W. Musgrave, John Hall and ruling elder Martin Ryerson to confer with a similar New School committee to reply to the invitation. A draft of the committee’s letter is found in Charles Hodge’s papers at Princeton Theological Seminary, in Hodge’s handwriting. It courteously declines the Pope’s invitation and firmly states that the Presbyterian church cannot return to Rome until the Council of Trent is overturned (among other concerns). Minutes (1869) 936.
Frederick, “”Is Baptism in the Church of Rome Valid?” Presbyterian 16.14 (April 4, 1846) 53.
Frederick, “Is Baptism in the Church of Rome Valid? No. II,” Presbyterian 16.15 (April 11, 1846) 57.
Frederick, “Is Baptism in the Church of Rome Valid? No. III,” Presbyterian 16.16 (April 18, 1846) 61.
Frederick, “Is Baptism in the Church of Rome Valid? No. IV,” Presbyterian 16.17 (April 25, 1846) 65.
“Is the Church of Rome a Church of Christ?” PH 23.24 (Feb 16, 1854).
Cunningham wrote in the British and Foreign Evangelical Review (July 1857) reviewing Hodge’s Essays and Reviews, a selection of Hodge’s ecclesiastical essays from the Princeton Review. Quoted in A. A. Hodge, The Life of Charles Hodge, 428-429.
New York Observer (June 27, 1878). Quoted in A. A. Hodge, The Life of Charles Hodge, 260.
One practical result of the debate was the fragmentation of the Portugese Presbyterian churches in Illinois in 1858. These Presbyterians had been converted by Dr. Robert Reid Kalley of the Church of Scotland in 1838, but were driven off of Madeira Island in 1846 by Portugese Roman Catholic persecution, and had settled in Jacksonville, Springfield and Waverly, Illinois, where the Free Portugese Presbyterian Church was established in Jacksonville in 1850. In 1856 they transferred from the Free Church of Scotland to the Old School Presbytery of Sangamon. But unlike the Free Church, the Old School did not recognize the validity of their Roman Catholic baptisms. The ensuing conflict in the Portugese community divided the church beyond repair. The Sangamon Presbytery determined not to require the rebaptism of those who believed their Roman Catholic baptism was adequate, but the Rev. Antonio De Mattos led a slight majority out of the Old School by a 105-101 vote, which subsequently joined the New School (which had determined to leave the question of Roman Catholic baptism to the local session). The ensuing court battle over the church property lasted for more than five years. See Dennis E. Suttles, “Schism on the Prairie: The Case of the Free Portugese Church of Jacksonville, Illinois,” JPH 75:4 (Winter 1997) 211-222.
A fascinating illustration of the Protestant quest for Roman Catholic converts is told by Caroline B. Brettell, “From Catholics to Presbyterians: French-Canadian Immigrants in Central Illinois,” JPH 63:3 (Fall 1985) 285-298. The French Canadian Roman Catholic priest, Charles Chiniquy, became a charismatic temperance reformer in the 1840s, before settling down as a parish priest in Illinois, along the Kankakee River in 1851. He was suspended from the priesthood in 1856 for administering the mass in French, providing laymen with the Bible, along with “behavior unfitting a Catholic priest,” (probably sexual in nature). But his congregation at St. Anne supported him and when he was excommunicated in 1858 eighty per cent of the congregation followed him into independency. When major crop failures occurred in 1859-1860, Chiniquy appealed to the Protestant community for help. The Presbyterian became the clearinghouse for Protestant assistance for the allegedly starving Catholic converts. While Episcopalians and Baptists sent representatives to try to encourage Chiniquy to align with them, the Presbyterians objected to such sectarian strategies, and offered assistance without any strings attached. Largely due to this generosity, Chiniquy joined the Chicago Presbytery of the Old School Presbyterian church in 1860, telling his congregation that “if you are not satisfied” after a year, “we will join another” (292). But troubles in discipline led to the division of the St. Anne church, and a second Presbyterian church was formed in 1861 under the Rev. Theodore Monod, a French minister who had come in 1860 to assist Chiniquy (who was frequently engaged in lecture tours around the country). Charges against Chiniquy for mismanagement of funds eventually resulted in his suspension by the Chicago Presbytery in 1862, at which point the First Presbyterian Church of St. Anne applied for admission to the Canadian Presbyterian Church. Chiniquy remained a minister in the Canadian Presbyterian Church until his death in 1899. Both the Chicago Presbytery and the Canadian Synod suggested that Chiniquy should be given a certain moral leeway due to his past as a Roman Catholic priest–who were assumed to be notoriously immoral. There is an eery similarity to the way in which Presbyterians handled the sexual dalliance of the West African minister, Edward W. Blyden. Roman Catholics and blacks were expected to have a lower morality, and so public behavior that would not have been tolerated in white Presbyterians was frequently winked at. See Moses N. Moore, Jr., “Edward Wilmot Blyden: From Old School Presbyterian Missionary to ‘Minister of Truth,’” JPH 75:2 (Summer 1997) 103-118. For several months the Presbyterian reported on Chiniquy almost weekly. Among the more important articles: M. J. Paillard, “Father Chiniquy,” from the New York Express, reprinted in the Presbyterian 29.35 (September 3, 1859) 141; A Visitor, “A Visit to Ste. Ann,” Presbyterian (October 1, 1859) 158; the announcement of Chiniquy’s decision to become Old School is in Presbyterian (Jan 28, 1860); Charles A. Spring, a ruling elder, and brother of the Rev. Gardiner Spring of Brick Presbyterian Church in New York City, wrote of the desperate condition of the colonists in Presbyterian (May 19, 1860); cf. “The French Colony,” Presbyterian 30.39 (September 29, 1860) 158; “The Candian French Colony” Presbyterian (November 10, 1860) 182; A. H., “Letter from Illinois,” Presbyterian 31.17 (April 27, 1861) 66.
The New School Assembly dealt with the same question in the 1850s. Henry Boynton Smith took Hodge’s position and was able to prevent the New School from denying the validity of Roman baptism. Therefore after the reunion, in 1875, the reunited General Assembly left the matter to the discretion of the session. (Moore, Presbyterian Digest 514). Meanwhile the Southern General Assembly reiterated the condemnation of Roman baptism in 1871 and 1884. Another Old Schooler who came to favor Hodge’s position was William A. Scott, a San Francisco pastor, “Validity of Roman Catholic Baptism,” Presbyterian 30.36 (March 7, 1861).
Chapter five will explore the anti-catholic aspect of Breckinridge and Thornwell’s educational theory.