Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The Admiral versus the Rector: A Naval Historian Speaks out on Prayer Book Revision

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The Admiral versus the Rector: A Naval Historian Speaks out on Prayer Book Revision

Article excerpt

The name of Rear Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840-1914) is well known to all with any naval connection.1 The publication of his book The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783, in 1890 revolutionized the study of naval history, not only in the United States but also in Europe and Japan, and turned Mahan, a hitherto unknown naval officer, into the Prophet of Sea Power. He went on to write eighteen more books and hundreds of articles on naval history, geopolitical strategy, and America's emergence as a world power. What is not so well known about Mahan is his lifetime of active involvement in the Episcopal Church. Mahan was both intensely devout and an avid student of theology. He was extremely well-versed in scripture, church history, and current issues in the Episcopal Church.4 He wrote one book on personal spiritual development, The Harvest Within: Thoughts on the Life of a Christian (1909), and numerous articles on various aspects of Christianity for both religious and secular publications.5 One of his abiding interests was liturgy, a subject on which he had strong opinions. A particular issue which concerned him in his later years was prayer book revision. This article examines one particular controversy fought out in the pages of The Churchman as a means of elucidating Manan 's liturgical views and illustrating a specific instance of controversy in which a knowledgeable layperson took on a member of the clergy.

BACKGROUND

Mahan, a lifelong Episcopalian, was brought up in a home that took Christian belief and practice most seriously. His father was Dennis Hart Mahan, the legendary dean of the faculty and professor of Engineering at West Point and teacher of such luminaries as Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. The elder Mahan was brought up a Roman Catholic but sometime during his West Point cadet years (he was class of 1824) he had a conversion experience and joined the Episcopal Church. Alfred's mother, Mary Helena Okill, was a member of a prominent Episcopal family with roots in New York City and New Jersey.6

It could be said of Alfred that he was the spiritual offspring of the nineteenth century priest, William Augustus Muhlenberg, the evangelical Catholic, "a prophet whom no party could claim." Muhlenberg was described as a man who "combined an esteem for dignified liturgy with a deeply ecumenical outlook and a profound concern for social responsibility in the 1-1 Church." Dennis and Mary Mahan were both members of a circle of young adults who looked to Muhlenberg as their spiritual mentor and it was through this Muhlenberg circle that tfiey met. The connection was strengthened when Dennis took over the care of his younger half-brother Milo upon the death of their father and sent him to St. Paul's College in Flushing, New York, an Episcopal high school and college founded and run by Muhlenberg. Milo was ordained to the priesthood in 1846 and was professor of Ecclesiastical History at General Theological Seminary from 1851 to 1864.9 Apart from his home life with his parents the Muhlenberg influence was conveyed to young Alfred in two additional ways. When he was twelve Alfred was sent to St. James' College in Hagerstown, Maryland, an Episcopal boarding school run by the Reverend John B. Kerfoot (later first bishop of Pittsburgh), another protégé of Muhlenberg and classmate of Milo at St. Paul's. (St. Paul's was no longer operating by this time or Alfred probably would have been sent there.) 10 After two years at St. James' Alfred enrolled in Columbia College in New York City. He attended for two years during which time he lived with Uncle Milo and his family and absorbed Milo's high church ethos which might be characterized as strongly influenced, but not totally captivated, by the burgeoning Oxford movement.

Desiring a naval career Alfred entered the United States Naval Academy, graduating in 1859. He did not find his years there spiritually stimulating. …

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