Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Arthur Cleveland Coxe, the Ante-Nicene Fathers, and Roman Catholicism

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Arthur Cleveland Coxe, the Ante-Nicene Fathers, and Roman Catholicism

Article excerpt

young convert to the Episcopal Church,1 Arthur Cleveland Coxe (1818-1896) imbibed high-church views at General Theological Seminary in New York.2 At the time, this seminary was considered "the Oxford of American Anglicanism," "the centre of electric fire."1 * 3 From 1835 to 1845, the New York seminarians devoured the writings of John Henry Newman; Coxe, who graduated in 1841, became an ardent disciple.4 He had (so he reports) been part of a "little band of earnest youth" who loved Newman, harboring no suspicion that he was not leading them "into green pastures and beside still waters"-until the publication of Tract 90 in 1841. Shocked by Tract 90, Coxe at first discounted Newman as its author; later, when Newman's authorship was confirmed, he felt his heart "become like a stone." Writing after Newman's "defection" to Rome in 1845 and with the outrage of a betrayed lover, Coxe denounced "the Romish system" (as he called it) for "its unspeakable heresies, its awful idolatry of a fabulous woman, its imposture of the Decretals, and the Morals of Alphonsus de' Liguori."5 By circa 1840, Coxe claimed that the designation "Catholic" belonged only to Episcopalians, not to Roman Catholics:6 "Catholicity" is a quality that "Romanism" has forfeited. Refusing to let the enemy run off with the cherished title, Coxe henceforth identified himself as a "Catholic" throughout his writings. Coxe not only renounced Newman's views and attacked Anglo-Catholic teaching and ritualism;8 as a bishop, he publicly declared that he would not ordain to the Episcopalian priesthood any man of Tractarian sympathies.9

By the 1850s, Coxe's attack on Roman Catholicism had intensified.10 Regarding the recently-proclaimed dogma of the Immaculate Conception (Ineffabilis Deus, 1854), Coxe wrote, "if the pope be right what becomes of the Fathers, and if the Fathers be right what becomes of the pope?"* 11 For the remainder of his life, Coxe's energies were focused on combating Roman Catholicism in America. He decried its pernicious (in his view) influence on the American educational system, electoral politics, and family life.12 He warred against the "ignorant and vicious and pauperized" hordes of [Roman Catholic] immigrants flooding American shores:

We give them the ballot; they hold the balance of power; and demagogues make them the arbiters of our destinies. They may soon overthrow our schools; they have already thrown out the Holy Bible; they grasp our taxes, with insatiable rapacity, to endow their own schools, disguised as protectories and hospitals, or other institutions of charity.13

Coxe's hostility knew no bounds. He delivered rude insults to representatives of the Vatican visiting in America,14 warned Pius IX-whom he addressed as "my colleague in the Episcopate"-not to issue a decree on papal infallibility,15 and translated works by Gallican and Old Catholic authors that critiqued current Roman Catholic doctrine.1'1


In the 1880s, Coxe, now Episcopal bishop of Western New York, broached a new line of attack: he would bring the writings of the Ante-Nicene Fathers to America, making clear to readers that the early Fathers' message did not portend Roman Catholicism. For this project, he secured the services of the Christian Literature Company, based first in Buffalo and then in New York City. Coxe largely reproduced (although ordered and printed differently) the Ante-Nicene Christian Library edited and published in twenty-four volumes by Scotsmen James Donaldson and Alexander Roberts.17 It is unclear whether Coxe ever requested permission to reprint the series, with changes, in America. In any event, Donaldson was later annoyed at Coxe's failure to send him a copy of the American edition; he had worked hard (so he told Philip Schaff) to produce the Edinburgh series, which Coxe had largely copied.

As Richard Pfaff notes, the neutral quality of the Edinburgh edition was "completely submerged" by Coxe's strong theological (i. …

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