Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Hidden Jesuits?: "Romanizing" and Inquest at the General Theological Seminary, 1845

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Hidden Jesuits?: "Romanizing" and Inquest at the General Theological Seminary, 1845

Article excerpt

In June 1845, the faculty of the General Theological Seminary issued its annual report to the institution's board of trustees. It included a roster of current and incoming students, as well as the customary list of those who had left the seminary over the course of the previous academic year. Among the entries on that list:

On the 4th of February last, the Dean communicated to the Faculty that Henry McVickar, of the Senior class, had informed him of his having withdrawn from the Seminary...Joseph P. Taylor, of the Middle class, withdrew from the Seminary in April last, on account of ill health...On the 13th of January last, the Faculty resolved that Josh. Newton Wattson and John B. Donnelly, both of the Middle class, cease to be members of the Seminary, and that they be directed to withdraw from the Institution...Clarence Walworth, of the Middle class of last year, who had leave of absence, has not returned.1

To the casual reader, these would hardly seem remarkable: random and unrelated examples of the sort of attrition common at any institution of higher learning. But in fact, the five cases above were connected, and some, if not all, of the trustees knew it.

The board wanted more detail about these departures, and on 26 June, they "Resolved, That the Faculty be requested to communicate to the Board any documents or information in their possession calculated to throw light on the cases of those students who have been subjected to the discipline of the Institution during the last year for reason of theological error."2

How could a voluntary withdrawal from the seminary, a withdrawal due to illness, two expulsions, and a failure to return to Chelsea Square after a leave of absence be connected? And how could they be linked to "theological error"? The answer has to do with the fear of Romanizing high churchmanship that the Oxford Movement provoked in some quarters, and the form that reaction against this perceived threat assumed at the seminary.

New York City was an important center for Tractarianism in the United States: Dr. Samuel Seabury's influential, high church publication, The Churchman, had its offices there; the bishop of New York, Benjamin Onderdonk, was a vociferous and powerful proponent of it; and several faculty and many students of the General Theological Seminary, located on Ninth Avenue in New York, were also staunch advocates of Oxford Movement thinking.3 Seabury had close ties to the seminary and eventually became its professor of Biblical Learning. Bishop Onderdonk served as its professor of Ecclesiastical Polity and Law. By the mid1840s, the seminary's position as a prime exponent of Oxford Movement principles was firmly established.

In fact, a publisher offered to issue the first American printing of the Tracts for the Times and donate all proceeds to the seminary. Seabury, himself ambivalent about the Tracts, thought the benefit to the institution would nevertheless be great. Even so, some of the seminary's trustees objected to the institution profiting by the sale of such material, so the project was taken up by a less generous publisher. Upon their issue in America, the Tracts raised awareness of Oxford Movement high churchmanship, but this also led to increased apprehensions-including questions about the orthodoxy of students and professors at the General Theological Seminary.4

When Arthur Carey, a seminarian, was ordained in July 1843 by Bishop Onderdonk over the objections of Carey's own bishop (who contended that Carey's Tractarian views invalidated him for service as an Episcopal priest) heretofore whispered rumors about Romanizing at the institution were made loudly vocal. Both publications and evangelical leaders within the church faulted the professors and their curriculum for Carey's Roman beliefs, particularly because Bishop Onderdonk, a fiery (if at times unmeasured) defender of Carey's orthodoxy, was a professor there.

The trustees launched an investigation of the faculty, the findings of which were to be reported to the General Convention of 1844. …

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