Front Page Titles (by Subject) JAY TO THE CORPORATION OF TRINITY CHURCH. 1 - The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, vol. 4 (1794-1826)
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JAY TO THE CORPORATION OF TRINITY CHURCH. 1 - John Jay, The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, vol. 4 (1794-1826) 
The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, ed. Henry P. Johnston, A.M. (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890-93). Vol. 4 (1794-1826).
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JAY TO THE CORPORATION OF TRINITY CHURCH.1
. . . . . . .
Permit us now to request your attention to a subject of more importance: it affects us all. You will recollect that Mr. Streebeck, in his letter respecting our call, mentioned his expectation of being inducted, according to the forms of what is called “the office of Induction.”
At that time we knew so little of that paper as to be unable to say anything decided to him about it; we afterward procured and considered it. To us it appeared to be liable to objections so manifest and so insuperable, as that we never could consent to have a minister inducted into our Church in that way.
That office of induction ought not, in our opinion, to be permitted to glide silently into operation, and acquire claims to obedience from successive instances of unguarded acquiescence. Whether that instrument is with or without precedent in the Christian Church, or by whom or for what purposes it was devised, are questions on which we make no remarks. Amid the prayers and piety by which it is decorated, are to be found unconstitutional assumptions of power, accompanied with a degree of parade and pageantry which, however conducive to other objects, have no natural connection with the mere business of induction. We believe that episcopacy was of apostolic institution, but we do not believe in the various high-church doctrines and prerogatives which art and ambition, triumphing over credulity and weakness, have annexed to it.
By the office of induction, the bishop is to give a formal commission, under his episcopal seal and signature, to the minister whom the corporation had called and engaged to be their rector; giving and granting to him the bishop’s license and authority to perform the office of a priest of that parish.
We believe that every Episcopalian priest, ordained according to the rules of our Church, has, in virtue of that ordination, good right and authority to preach the Gospel and perform divine service in any parish; but we admit the propriety of being restrained by the bishop from calling and settling any other than an Episcopalian minister so ordained and of fair character. We therefore think it fit that the bishop’s approbation on these two points should precede a call. We believe that we have a right to contract with and employ any such minister to be our rector; and that such contract is the only valid and proper commission which he can have to be our particular minister or rector.
We believe that both we and such minister have good right to make such a contract; that when made it is a civil contract; and that the convention have no authority to divest either priest or laymen of their right to make it.
By the office of induction and the commission directed by it, the bishop does induct the minister into the parish, and does ordain that he shall claim and enjoy all the accustomed temporalities appertaining to his cure.
We believe that the induction of a priest into a parish is neither more nor less than giving him the key of the church, and putting him in possession of such houses, tenements, and lands as he is entitled, by his contract with the corporation, to occupy and enjoy. This is a business which can lawfully be done only by the proprietors, nor can we perceive the least shadow of right in the bishop or in any other person to meddle with it.
As the bishop has no title to, nor care of, nor any business with, the temporalities of any church, we reject with decision every order or ordinance of his respecting the property of our corporation; we think it highly improper that he should attempt to meddle with our estate, or presume to order any person whatever to claim and enjoy all or any part of it. As to the pretence that he does it because they who serve at the altar should live of the things of the altar; or in other words, that we ought to maintain our minister, it is too frivolous to be even plausible. As the Lord and Giver of all property had already made an ordinance on this subject, another ordinance of the like import by the bishop was, to say the least, unnecessary. In this case his admonitions would be more proper than his orders. Besides, the bishop must know, and does know, that whatever relates to the support of the minister is always settled and fixed by a contract between him and his congregation before his induction as their rector. And therefore it can neither be very necessary nor very decorous for the bishop to ordain that the minister shall claim and enjoy what the corporation had previously promised and engaged that he should have and enjoy.
By the same instrument the bishop further ordains that the said minister shall claim and enjoy the said temporalities, not for any prescribed or limited time, but until he shall be separated from the congregation by episcopal authority.
In cases where the contract with the minister is clearly expressed and well understood to be for a limited time, can the bishop, with any appearance of probity or propriety, ordain that the minister shall, after the expiration of that time, still continue to claim and enjoy the temporalities without a new contract? Or is it the object and design of this same office of induction, to divest us of the important right which we have by the laws of God and of our country, to make civil and lawful contracts of limited duration with any person for his services, whether priest or layman? We fear this design is in operation, for we understand that every priest who shall make such a contract is to be excluded from a seat in the Convention.
We for our parts are far from being prepared to admit the validity and power of any canon to divest us of this right, or to punish or disfranchise a priest for exercising it. We know of nothing in the Gospel which forbids such contracts. To insist that we shall take a priest for better or for worse, and to keep him and to pay him whether he proves worthy or unworthy, faithful or unfaithful, whether we like him or whether we do not like him, is really demanding more than ought either to be demanded or to be complied with. It is said that the bishop may afford relief. It is true that he may; but it is also true that he may not.
As to the bishop’s being the arbiter and judge of disputes between a congregation and their rector, we observe, that all such of their disputes as turn on questions of a civil nature belong to the jurisdiction of the courts of law; and that no canon can either deprive those courts of that jurisdiction, nor divest any freeman of his right to have those disputes determined by the laws and by a jury of the country; and consequently, that no canon can or ought to constitute the bishop to be the arbiter or judge of them. But where the disputes turn on points of doctrine, we admit the fitness of their being decided by the bishop, so far as to settle the dispute; but not in all cases so far as to settle the doctrine; for there has been a time when, if the people had continued to believe and adhere to all the decisions and doctrines of their bishops, we should not have heard of, nor have been blessed with the reformed Protestant religion.
We cannot consider it as being altogether consistent with decorum, that the office of induction should order the senior warden, who is the first officer of the corporation, to stand at an appointed place, on the day of induction, during Divine service, holding the keys of the church in his hand in open view, as a mere pageant. We cannot approve of his being directed then to deliver the keys to the new incumbent, as a token that the parish did acknowledge him to be, what they had already made him to be, their rector. We can as little approve of what the new incumbent is thereupon to say to the senior warden, viz., “I receive these keys as pledges of the bishop’s episcopal induction, and of your recognition.”
Recognition of what? That they, the church-wardens, vestry, and congregation, are all ciphers in the business. It is not easy to observe and examine these things without feeling some degree of indignation. We cannot dismiss the office of induction without expressing our disapprobation of introducing an opinion on a disputed point into one of the prayers directed to be used on the day of induction; it is this:
“O holy Jesus, who has purchased to thyself an universal church, and has promised to be with the ministers of apostolic succession to the end of the world.”
This is not the promise literally, but the promise paraphrased and expounded. The promise of our Saviour is, “And lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”
As the apostles were all to die in a few years, this promise could not be understood as limited to them personally, but as extending to a certain description of persons throughout all ages of the world. To what description of persons does the promise extend? is the question. To this question, they who made the above paraphrase answer, that it intends and extends to “the ministers of apostolic succession.” If it be asked, whether the ministers of the Calvinistic and of certain other churches are of apostolic succession, it is answered by all our bishops and clergy that they are not. It follows, therefore, of necessary consequence, that our bishops and clergy, and their congregation, when they offer up their prayer to Almighty God, must offer it with the meaning and understanding that the gracious promise mentioned in it is confined to Episcopalian ministers, and therefore excludes the ministers of all other denominations of Christians.
Who is there among us that can be prepared to declare, in solemn prayer, and in such positive and unqualified terms, that none but Episcopalian ministers have any part or lot in this important promise? Who is there that can be certain that the apostles, as to that promise, were not considered as the representatives of all who should become sincere and pious converts to, and believers in, the doctrines which they were sent to publish and to teach? What good reason can be assigned for our being called upon by the office of induction to adopt thus solemnly in prayer a doubtful exposition and construction of the promise; for doubtful it most certainly is, having from the reformation to this day been a subject of controversy and dispute between the ablest and best Christian divines. Great, indeed, must be the confidence and hardihood of those advocates for this construction of the promise who can, without hesitation, deny that our blessed Redeemer was with those non-episcopalian ministers and congregations amounting to several hundred thousands, who for his sake endured all the varieties and rigours of persecution. If the great Captain of our Salvation was not with them, how and by whom were they enabled to meet and sustain such trials so firmly, to resist the adversary so resolutely, and to fight the good fight of faith so triumphantly?
It may not be unworthy of remark, that as a prophecy is best understood from its completion, so the manner in which a Divine promise is performed, affords the best exposition of its true and original meaning.
Lastly. Let it be remembered, and corporations should recollect their charters, that in the year 1795 the Protestant-Episcopal church in this State did apply for and did obtain an act of the Legislature in this State, passed the seventeenth day of March in that year, which contains the following clause:
“And be it further enacted, that the churchwardens and vestry for the time being, shall be, and hereby are vested with full power to call and induct a rector to the church, when and so often as there shall be a vacancy therein.”
We submit to your consideration whether measures should not be taken to do away the office of induction; and if there must be such a thing introduced into the church, that it may be such a one as will leave both clergy and laity in quiet possession of their respective rights.
It is with sincere regret and reluctance that we find ourselves urged, by obvious considerations, to proceed to remarks on another interesting topic, which cannot be agreeable to many whose affections and good-will we are solicitous to cultivate by every becoming mark of respect. We know how much the welfare of our infant church depends on their friendly disposition towards us, and it certainly is as little our inclination as it is our interest to incur their displeasure. But painful as it may be, we must maintain our right, even at the risk of losing their good-will.
For a considerable time past, we have observed a variety of circumstances connected with church affairs which, on being combined and compared one with the other, justify inferences which, in our opinion, are exceedingly interesting, not only to the rights of the laity, but also to our churches in general, and to yours in particular. We allude to the gradual introduction and industrious propagation of high church doctrines. Of late years, they have frequently been seen lifting up their heads and appearing in places where their presence was neither necessary nor expected. There never was a time when those doctrines promoted peace on earth or good-will among men. Originating under the auspices and in the days of darkness and despotism, they patronized darkness and despotism down to the Reformation. Ever encroaching on the rights of governments and people, they have constantly found it convenient to incorporate, as far as possible, the claims of the clergy with the principles and practice of religion; and their advocates have not ceased to preach for Christian doctrines the commandments and devices of men.
To you it cannot be necessary to observe, that high church doctrines are not accommodated to the state of society, nor to the tolerant principles, nor to the ardent love of liberty which prevail in our country. It is well known that our church was formed after the Revolution with an eye to what was then believed to be the truth and simplicity of the Gospel; and there appears to be some reason to regret that the motives which then governed have since been less operative.
We know that our obscure and unimportant corporation can do but little. Providence has placed you under different circumstances. You have stronger inducements to watchfulness, more means to do good, and more power to avert evil.
Permit us to hope that the subjects of this letter will engage your serious consideration. Whatever may be the result, we shall have the satisfaction of reflecting that we have done our duty, in thus explicitly protesting against measures and proceedings which, if persevered in, must and will, sooner or later, materially affect the tranquillity and welfare of the Church.
[1 ]“Mr. Jay, finding on his removal to Bedford no Episcopal church in the vicinity, constantly attended the one belonging to the Presbyterians; nor did he scruple to unite with his fellow-Christians of that persuasion in commemorating the passion of their common Lord. His catholicism, however, did not diminish his attachment to his own denomination. He was instrumental in erecting an Episcopal church in Bedford, and was, during the rest of his life, a generous benefactor to it, and, by his will, left a liberal annuity to its pastor. His reluctance to hold any office led him to decline a seat in the vestry of this church, but his advice and aid were frequently asked and cheerfully given. Some matters of business requiring a communication to the vestry of Trinity church, in the city of New York, he was requested to prepare it; and he took the opportunity of addressing to that powerful and influential corporation some remarks on topics which he regarded as deeply interesting to the Church at large. The draught was cordially approved and adopted by the Bedford church.”—Jay’s “Life of Jay,” Vol. I., p. 434.