Memorial Sermon by Bishop Wilmer

This web page is taken from

The Recent Past from a Southern Standpoint: Reminiscences of a Grandfather
by Richard Hooker Wilmer
T. Whittaker, 1887
Pages 201-242

In Memoriam

I don’t know that I can give my children a more complete idea of a typical Southern gentleman and Christian Bishop, than by adding to these reminiscences a portraiture which —in 1867, shortly after the war of the States—I drew of Bishop Elliott of Georgia.
He was a Southern man, a slaveholder, and a Southern patriot of the first water. When men of the South realize, as they should that some of the finest specimens of refined Christian character are to be found in the ranks of the Republican party in the North, and when men of the North realize, as they should, that men of like refined Christian character in the South defended, and still do defend, the original right to secede under the then existing Constitution, then may we indulge the hope that the late conflict of ideas and principles—may not be buried and forgotten,—for it was too earnest and sincere a conflict to be forgotten,—but understood. Then men will respect each other, and cease stigmatizing each other by opprobrious epithets. I never allow any man to call me a “rebel,” nor do I allow him to speak in my presence, unrebuked, of a war for Constitutional right as a “Rebellion.”

When one sees such men as Bishops Lee of Delaware, and Potter of Pennsylvania, on one side of a great question, and such men as Bishops Meade, Elliott, and Davis, on the opposite side, they should cease from “calling people names,” as the children well designate it, and calmly consider the great lessons of the hour. One great lesson may assuredly be gleaned,—that the whole truth is many sided; that no one man, however great and good, can see all its sides. He alone, who is “The Truth,” can never err.
In the memorial sermon which follows, I have aimed to view the recent conflict of ideas from the stand-point of a Bishop of the Church born and reared in the South, and, therefore, from the Southern view of the whole question. We have no apologies to make, but feel bound by that charity which “rejoiceth in the truth,” to throw whatever of light may have been vouchsafed to us upon a subject which to some minds appears dark and mysterious.

Memorial Sermon

“Even so, Father for so it seemed good in Thy sight.”—St Matthew xi. 26.

Dearly beloved, a great sorrow has brought us together this day. It has devolved upon me—a stranger to almost all before me—to speak of the life and labors of your dear, departed Bishop. But yet, in the church and diocese of my brother of Georgia, and surrounded by so many hearts which beat quickly at the mention of his name, I cannot feel that I, who loved as you loved, and sorrowed when you sorrowed, can be regarded as an utter stranger. When it was suddenly announced to me that the Bishop of Georgia had died, I felt once again as I had felt in childhood, when it was told me my father was no more.
Bishop Elliott was one of the three revered Bishops who had set me apart, by the imposition of hands, to the office and work of a Bishop. He had presided as senior Bishop of the “General Council” of the Southern dioceses. His experience in the office of a Bishop had extended over a quarter of a century, and constituted him, by general acclaim, our acknowledged, as he was our official, head. He was, too, by birth, talents, and culture, our representative man—the impersonation of many cherished sentiments. All through life he had been their champion, and we looked to him to be long their vindicator and defender.
You have invited me here to deliver a discourse commemorative of his life and labors. I held the request as sacred, and yet I regretted that the duty had not devolved upon another. The task requires—besides other gifts to which I make no pretension—a degree of acquaintance with the early and inner life of the good Bishop which I was not privileged to enjoy. One cannot speak of another, as your Bishop should be spoken of, unless he can speak “that which he knows, and testify to that which he has seen.”
It will be the grateful task of some intimate friend of the bishop of Georgia to gather together the reminiscences of his boyhood—those precious treasures which mothers are wont to lay up in their hearts.
A life so bright as his must needs have had an auspicious morning. It will be the duty of another to tell the Church of his early struggles, when, turning from all the dreams of youth and the blandishments of life, he gave himself, a living sacrifice, to God, and laid upon His altar the homage of his heart and all the wealth of his nature. A bright earthly future stood before the young aspirant; fond expectations were cherished of his early fame; but he turned from them all. Their light was quenched in that brighter light which met him on the way, melted his soul in penitence, and resolved for him the great question of life, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?”
An account of what he was in the earlier years of his ministry we have now no longer to look for. The Alumni of his Alma Mater have given to us in that memoir, adopted and recently published by them, the most exquisite and truthful delineation of the man, the chaplain, and the professor. No more affectionate and graceful tribute will ever be paid to his memory.
It is, then, much to be desired that some master-hand shall take the different views presented of this great man, shall group them, and give to the Church a full-size portrait of the first Bishop of Georgia. Let this be done by no inferior hand. It should be such a portraiture as will go down to posterity with those of our other Bishops, that our children may learn to know and reverence the men who lived and labored in the early days of the Church in America.
I have proposed to myself to-day the grateful though melancholy task if speaking of the deceased as a Bishop of the Church, and, particularly in his relations to the great subjects which have agitated this country during the few last eventful years.
When consecrated to the episcopate of Georgia, in 1841, Bishop Elliott although young in years and in office, very soon took high rank among his brethren. He possessed in an eminent degree many of the qualities which fit men to be leaders and commanders among the people. His form was beautiful and manly, and his whole presence majestic and imposing. His manners were refined and dignified, yet kind and conciliating. His intellect was large and highly cultivated, and his views elevated and comprehensive. His disposition was ingenuous and affectionate, and calculated to win upon the affections of others. His knowledge of his fellow-men was intuitive and profound, and his forbearance with their infirmities almost exhaustless. To a disposition ever ready to give way in matters of trifling importance, he united a strength of conviction and a firmness of purpose which would not yield one iota of principle; and when roused to vindicate his convictions, he would at times assert them with a vehemence that was well-nigh overwhelming. So noble were his instincts, that you always knew where to find him,—if not agreed with others, yet agreeing and consistent with himself. A steady, brave, and true man he was, and so precious to the Church that he was loved and is mourned by all who seek her peace and prosperity. All these qualities marked him out as a leader among men. But yet he could never have been the leader of a party, for he sought the truth rather than victory. His views were so large that they embraced the truths held by both parties of the Church; and he was found acting with the one or the other, indifferently, as in their movements they came within the sphere of his convictions. He could not have organized a party, but he could have led a nation. He could not have drilled a caucus, but he electrified a people. Some of his thoughts, to which he knew how to give such grand expression, will never be forgotten by the men of this generation; and to this hour our hearts thrill at their recollection. His experience in the early years of his episcopate differs in no material respect from that of other Bishops in new dioceses. He found in Georgia a handful of clergymen, and some few scattered members of the Church,—not so many as he left at the time of his death in the single congregation of Christ Church, Savannah. About seven clergymen and three hundred communicants constituted the strength of the Church in Georgia,—a State embracing an area of fifty-eight thousand square miles. Over this extended tract of country he had the oversight and jurisdiction. The task was one calculated to test the most sanguine temperament. Besides the hindrances which all meet with who preach the gospel of Christ,—the innate depravity and the carnal mind,—he was called upon to commend the usages of the Church to a people who viewed with impatience, if not with sternness, every thing that savored of ceremonial observance.
The decent and comely robes of office, the gravity and solemnity of the ritual, the due subordination and reverent demeanor, were all matters of derision to a people accustomed to the free and easy mode of extemporaneous performances. At this day, when the tastes of people are setting, perhaps, too indiscriminately in an opposite direction, it will be difficult to conceive of the intense opposition to the usages of the Church at the time to which I refer.
The plan of operations which Bishop Elliott proposed to himself, in view of the magnitude of the work in hand, was to begin by establishing strong central points in every quarter of the diocese, and in course of time to work out from these centres into the surrounding rural districts. In addition to his episcopal labors, he took upon himself the charge of a church in Savannah, thus adding the cares of a pastor to the laborious work of a Bishop—an experiment, I hope, not to be repeated. At an early day, however, he turned his attention to the education of the young, and gave up his charge at Savannah to take charge of the Female Institute at Montpelier. It will be the pleasing task of the future biographer to trace out in detail the particulars of Bishop Elliott’s connection with the Institute at Montpelier. I make the declaration, however,—and his biography will supply the proof,—that his whole course in connection with the Institute at Montpelier was dictated by a spirit so noble and self-sacrificing that he placed himself above the comprehension of ordinary minds. Men cannot well conceive of the existence of motives so much raised above the ordinary level. Bishop Elliott took hold of that enterprise, and invited upon himself the full responsibility of all its load of debt, with much the same spirit that one would volunteer to embark upon, and take command of, a sinking ship. Through what trial and suffering, and clouds of misapprehension, he was called to pass, few know,—only God who knoweth all things, and the true woman whose heart shared all his solicitudes. He was not bound to undertake the responsibility by any legal obligation whatsoever. The debts contracted before his connection with the Institute were in no way binding upon him, but he felt that the honor of the Church might in some way be involved; and he determined, that, sink or swim, he would venture all upon it. And all was ventured, and all was lost save honor and the consciousness of duty attempted. According to the rules of arithmetic, it was but a sorry venture: viewed in the light of the motives which inspired him, it approached the sphere of martyrdom. Had he been less self-sacrificing he would have obtained more credit from the world, which always looks for motives on its own level. Men could not understand how one could risk so much without some motive of ultimate gain. When that history shall have been written, and the amount of sacrifice made known, the people of Georgia will, with new surprise, understand who and what the Bishop was who taught them the great lesson of self-sacrifice. In all his intercourse with his fellow-man, he illustrated the idea of honor so delicately drawn by the hand of a master:—

“Say what is Honor? ‘Tis the finest sense
Of justice which the human mind can frame,
Intent each lurking frailty to disclaim,
And guard the way of life from all offence
Suffered or done.”

But the scheme did not turn out as he had hoped and willed. Few came to his aid; and he turned, with a heart almost broken with disappointment, to his remaining duties. It is pleasing now to learn that one of his latest acts was to lay the corner-stone of a chapel at the Montpelier Institute. The rock which supplied the material was gathered together by himself some twenty years before. It was a source of peculiar pleasure to him to witness the revival and prosperity of his-much loved school; and his face was seen to beam once more as of old, with the light of hope and pleasure. Thus have we seen the clouds lift at sunset, and open to us a glimpse of parting day.
We come now to trace the course of the Bishop of Georgia through a stormy period in the history of this country. It becomes necessary to refer to this period, not with the view of reviving the remembrance of a past conflict, but to rescue from unmerited reproach the memory of a Bishop of the Church, whose highest aim had ever been to set forth peace and quietness among all people, and to know nothing among men save Jesus Christ and Him crucified. If he ever breathed words which savored of strife, it was that a sure and lasting peace might thereby be established, and good will more certainly prevail. Certain fanatical ideas had assumed a dangerous and threatening attitude toward the institutions of the South. Casting aside the traditions of the past, the teachings of statesmen, philosophers, and fathers,—to say nothing of the sanctions of a solemn political compact,—this pestilent heresy dared even to lay its hand upon the Ark of the Covenant, and to deny the supreme authority of the Word of God in the last appeal. It was this moral and religious feature of the movement in question which called into active opposition the clergy of the South, and forced them to become prominent in the conflict which soon ensued. They were called upon, not only to clear themselves from the imputation of a grievous crime, but—and this more deeply concerned them—to maintain the supremacy of the Word of God, and the teachings of universal tradition. Whenever there is a conflict of principles, the men will always be found who are raised up for the crisis,—prophets who discern the coming evil, and men of nerve and will to vindicate and defend the right.
Bishop Elliott stood out prominently in his sphere, and with all the ardor of his nature (as did Bishop Meade of Virginia) addressed himself to the discharge of his full duty. At an early day he had discerned the signs of the times, and foresaw with extraordinary distinctness, the ultimate tendencies of the whole movement. It was at first a conflict of ideas, and ideas could only be met by ideas. The Bishops of the Southern dioceses, Bishop Polk taking the lead, together with divers of the clergy and laity, set themselves to the establishment of a seat of learning to be called the “University of the South,” which, it was hoped, in time, might take rank with the universities of the Old World, and become the great educator of Southern youth. It was a vital part of the plan, that this University should be placed under the entire guardianship of this our pure branch of the Catholic Church, whose faithful allegiance to God’s Holy Word, and traditional reverence for catholic truth, might lend the sanctities of a sound faith to sweeten the sources of knowledge, and give a right direction to all its power.
The whole scheme was projected upon a scale commensurate with the grandeur of the design. The good Bishop and his equally zealous coadjutors have been blamed by some for the magnitude of their aims, and plan of operations, but, I think, most unjustly. Why is it that the interests of knowledge and religion do not justify the same generous expenditure that is lavished upon objects of merely material importance? Millions will be subscribed to establish, and even to shorten, lines of communication and travel. The projectors of such schemes are hailed with ovations as the benefactors of their race. It is, for the most part, only when enterprises are started which look to the interests of men’s hearts and minds, that their advocates are regarded as visionary and extravagant. Is it that the worthy Bishop and his coadjutors were too grand in their aims, or that his critics were too grovelling? The truth is, the man of whom I speak to-day was a man of large proportions: he was made upon a large scale. The traditions of his house and his personal culture rendered him dissatisfied with whatever was inelegant and incomplete. Whatsoever he did, even in matters of comparatively small importance, he did with a certain nameless grace and elegance. There was in his dress and conversation, and in his correspondence,—even to the penmanship and paper,—a finish which was quite characteristic. This elegance, amounting perhaps to fastidiousness of taste, may have disqualified him for certain rough details of duty, but it eminently fitted him to take the lead in every thing that was grand and beautiful; and it is the ordination of Providence that each man shall serve in his own lot and after his own order. Never was an enterprise commenced under better auspices, and attended with more encouraging tokens of success, than the University of the South. It promised to supply a great want, and appealed to the deepest sympathies of all who could take in the magnitude of the interests involved. Bishops Polk and Elliott—twin brothers in life, and in death not long divided—gave themselves to the personal task of canvassing the Southern States. The Southern people met their appeals for endowments with a generous response. The site was procured, the grounds were marked out, and the foundation of the building was laid. The Bishop of Vermont (Hopkins)—clarum et venerabile nomen—gave his invaluable counsel and presence in the preliminary work.
Such was the attitude of things when the storm, which had been so long brewing, burst forth, and the thick cloud of war settled down upon the land. The interests of this cherished University suffered peculiar loss. The fortunes which had been pledged to its erection and support were swept away; and its munificent patrons are now either exiles from their native land, or are struggling under unkindly influences for their daily bread. Even the foundation-stone which had been laid in faith and prayer, was rudely torn from its bed, and despoiled of its sacred treasures. The object of this institution was distinct and widely known,—to educate in harmony with Southern ideas,—and upon its devoted head came the full force of the opposing element; as when the lightning consumes the shaft which vainly aims to avert its fury, and conduct it harmlessly to the ground.
Inscrutable is the will of God, that so many of man’s noblest efforts should seem to be in vain, and wickedness and violence be permitted a temporary triumph. Impenetrable mysteries are these, which baffle the highest reason. Priceless blessings will they be, if they teach us to say in faith, “Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in Thy sight.”
Into that mighty conflict which ensued, Bishop Elliott threw himself with all the enthusiasm of his soul; and he never disavowed his deeds, and never repented of them.
“Fortuna non mutat genus.”
In this presence, and by the recent grave which should enclose, if possible, all painful and unavailing memories, it does not become me, nor have I the desire, to speak of the past in its political and sectional aspects. But it does become me, and I hold it to be my sacred duty,—a duty which he would have faithfully performed for me,—to see that no nettles shall be planted on his grave. We bury our dead, but they are not forgotten, nor shall their tombs be dishonored.
We can recall—shall we ever forget it?—those memorable discourses of the Bishop, which spoke with trumpet-tongue through this land, reviving the hearts of the fearful and desponding, reminding the people of God’s wonders in the olden time, telling them how that “out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness.” Those glowing prophecies, conceived in as sublime faith as ever inspired the seers of old, were not fulfilled in the form in which they appeared to his own rapt vision. Far-seeing as man may be, God sees farther still. Great and far-reaching as may be the plans of man, they fall short of the Divine plan. God alone is great and wise and good. Poor, narrow, short-sighted man!—he lives in his little world, of which he and his loved ideas constitute the centre. Is it wonderful, then, that man, the wisest man, should be doomed to perpetual mistakes and disappointments? We propose for ourselves: God disposes for others also. We plan for a part: He arranges for the whole. The universe is the theatre of the Divine plan, and eternity alone shall give scope to the fulfilment of the vision.
Truth shall ultimately prevail, and wrong shall be put down, and justice shall be vindicated, but —and here is our common mistake—not according to our desires and judgments and purposes. Not in the forms which we have fashioned for them, but in more glorious and abiding beauty shall our buried hopes attain unto their resurrection. We believe in the resurrection of the dead, but that body which we sow is not that body that shall be; but God giveth it a body as it hath pleased Him, and to every seed his own body. It may be “sown in dishonor, it shall be raised in glory.”
These are the revelations from Heaven which come to us as we stand by the graves of our loved ones, and bid us look up from the dust and dishonor, as it goes to earth and corruption, to those glorious forms in which we shall greet them on the morning of their resurrection.
It has been charged upon Bishop Elliott and upon others, that they have at times over-stepped the limits of their calling, and have brought into the pulpit, themes other than those which are given them in trust by their Master. It may be so. I am not here to speak of my brother, or any other sinful man, as faultless. One of the curses of this day and generation 1s the fulsome and indiscriminate eulogy which is poured forth in obituaries and funeral discourses. No wonder that the world looks upon our humbling confessions of guilt and unworthiness as cant and hypocrisy, when so much of perfection is claimed for the living and the dead. Bishops are fashioned out of men. Earthen vessels are they, to whom a heavenly treasure is intrusted. More than human would they have been, if under that tremendous pressure of feeling, the recollection of which, even now at times, causes a tightening of the chest, their thoughts had not sometimes overflowed in strong and resistless expression. The good Bishop was not more than human. Indeed, it was his human-ness that constituted his peculiar charm, and attracted to him all our hearts.
There is a something, less than human, which will never offend after this manner. There is a cold-blooded indifference, which cannot be roused in holy indignation, and it may pass for great moderation; there is a time-serving timidity which shrinks from the consequences of a deed of daring, and it may pass for great prudence; there is a calculating policy which gauges all questions by the standard of profit and loss, and it will pass for great sagacity. Men of this stamp can go through the fire unharmed, because there is no material in them to be kindled. These are the less than human.
Bishop Elliott was not a man of a timid and calculating nature. He had been reared in the school of honor, whose teachings, when sublimated by the grace of God, impel men to dare all consequences in the assertion and maintenance of the right. He had not been his father’s son, he had been recreant to his whole race, if, in a question of sentiment and principle, he had paused to calculate the consequences by any standard of earthly profit. It is this spirit—travestied in the code of worldly honor—which inspired the noble army of martyrs, and made them to rejoice that they were counted worthy to suffer shame and death for a cause which they honored and espoused.

When men such as these fall into error, it is after their own manner, and in the line of their own nature. They are incapable of meanness, cowardice, and treachery; but when their indignation is aroused, they are prone to overflow the bounds of moderation. Errors of this kind are wont to be found in connection with generous and impassioned temperaments. These are the infirmities which God knoweth, and, as a Father, pitieth; and, blessed be His holy name, when repented of, are, with sins of a deeper dye, washed away in the most precious blood of Christ, and remembered no more forever.

But there is something more that must be said in this connection. It happens, oftentimes, that questions of morals and religion are so closely interwoven with political ideas and events, that it is very difficult, if not quite impossible to handle the one without touching the other. Especially is this the case when moral ideas seize upon the reins of power, and become aggressive and coercive.

Bishop Elliott had imbibed strong and distinct political ideas. They were a portion of his inheritance; they were the traditions of his race and of his house; they mingled in his nurture, and he held them with all the strength of his strong nature. Of these I shall not further speak: they belong not to this occasion, nor to the purpose of this discourse. But there was an element mingled with the recent conflict, not only of a political and social character, but one involving a great question of morals, and possessing a deep philanthropic and religious interest.

In these Southern States, there was to be found a race of people distinct in color and in social position from the ruling race. This amiable and docile people grew up with us in our houses, were our playmates in childhood, and became, in afterlife, our trusted friends and dependants.

Into the secret of that tender bond, which united the two races, a stranger cannot enter. This people became gradually Christianized. Their habits of subordination to their earthly master inclined them to an easier submission to the will of God. Their obedience, once inwrought, naturally went forth to every object of reverence and authority. It would be difficult for any one to recall the instance of an infidel among them, and their submission to the will of Heaven was proverbial. All this sprang naturally from

“The ingrained instinct of old reverence,
The holy habit of obediency.”

As the influences of Christianity continued to extend among the masters, the relation between them and their servants became less and less mercenary, and more and more patriarchal. It may be safely affirmed that there lived not upon the face of the earth a class of people, occupying the social position of our slaves, who were better cared for and better remunerated for their labor. The Southern system had solved the most difficult question in political economy. To feed and clothe well the laborer; to take care of the children, the aged, and the sick; to prevent pauperism, to diminish blindness, muteness, and lunacy, those sure indications of physical deterioration; and to insure the steady growth of population,—has been a task too great for the political economist. It will not need to take the testimony of Southern people upon this point. The dominant party in this country do now declare—whether rightly or not, I am not now considering—that this race, just now emancipated, is not only entitled to all the privileges, but capable of discharging all the duties, of American citizenship; and yet the ancestors of this people, a few years ago, were heathen savages in the wilds of Africa. What Christian mission, in the same space of time, has accomplished the same results for any heathen nation, that have been wrought out for this people in their connection with Southern influence, at Southern firesides?

Bishop Elliott was the type of the best Southern men in all his relations to this unhappy race. Understanding, as none but a Southern man brought up with them can understand, their childlike helplessness and dependence, and believing that the maintenance of existing relations was necessary to their continued existence and well-being as a people, for time and eternity, he took his stand by their side, and strove with all his might to avert what he deemed their ruin, and became the impassioned advocate of their cause. He who cannot understand what I am now saying, cannot comprehend the man of whom I am speaking.

I do not desire to be understood as now discussing the merits of this vexed question in any form. It is practically settled, and it is to the interest of all that it should not be disturbed. But I am here to see that the memory of a great and good Bishop is vindicated, and that his prominence, in what appeared to him the cause of humanity and religion, should never be confounded with the notoriety of those men who discuss party politics when they should preach Jesus Christ. I do proclaim, and will forever maintain, that the motives of Bishop Elliott and of kindred spirits, in their efforts to perpetuate at least for a while, the relation of master and servant were noble, patriotic, unselfish, and Christian. He foresaw, or thought he foresaw,—which is the same thing, so far as the motive is involved,—that the sudden disruption of the bond between him and the people he loved and cared for, would surely tend to their gradual deterioration and to their ultimate extinction. He felt that it would be a frightful wrong; and he rose up like a giant in all his strength, and said, virtually, “This must not be; and, God being my helper, this shall not be.” He may have been mistaken, for it is human to err. If he was, it was his infirmity, and not his fault. His whole life presents a clear record in regard to that people to whom he was bound by a thousand ties of affection, and by the ten dearest remembrances of mutual service.

He cared for them in every way, and sought to bring to them all the elevating and consoling truths of the Holy Gospel. His labors were richly blessed. He saw them gathering by hundreds under the wings of the Church, and becoming partakers with him of the same altar; and his affectionate nature was gladdened by the spectacle. When the downfall came, he sorrowed most of all for the poor, unhappy beings, who, suddenly and by an unlooked-for providence, had been bereft of their wonted guardianship, and consigned to what seemed a hopeless orphanage. Even then he ceased not to love and care for them. Hear how he speaks in his last address to his sons of the clergy: “Love must go along with it” (the work of the Church for them); “gratitude for their past services; memories of our infancy and childhood; thoughts of the glory which will accrue to us, when we shall lead these people, once our servants, but not now as servants, but above servants, as brethren beloved, and present them to Christ as our offering of repentance for what we may have failed to fulfil in the past of our trust.”

But Bishop Elliott’s position was peculiarly prominent in the ecclesiastical movements which took place upon the outbreak of civil war. Happily, under the protection of God’s good providence, our branch of the Church in the United States had kept herself aloof from the agitation of all sectional and political questions; and her legislation, the natural outgrowth of her spirit, had been uniformly church-like and catholic. The earthly alloy of political ideas, which had disintegrated the various denominational bodies, had never entered into her legislative halls. The General Convention, which met in Richmond in 1859, will long be remembered for the Christian charity and harmony which marked all its deliberations. It was composed of clergymen and laymen from every section of the country; and yet when the first overt act of fanatical aggression took place on the northern boundary of the State of Virginia, in whose capital they were assembled, the event, which shook the whole country to its centre, did not stir a ripple upon the surface of debate. The whole movement, therefore, of the Southern dioceses, looking to a separate organization, was the result of a sheer physical necessity, as if an abyss had suddenly yawned between the two sections. We mark the recognition of this fact in the letter of the Bishops, which summoned the Southern dioceses to meet, by their deputies, in the city of Montgomery. This letter, signed by Bishops Polk and Elliott, the senior bishops of the then seceded States, distinctly states “that this necessity (for a convention of the Southern dioceses) does not arise out of any dissension which has occurred within the Church itself, not out of any dissatisfaction with either the doctrine or discipline of the Church. We rejoice to record the fact that we are to-day, as Churchmen, as truly brethren as we have ever been, and that no deed has been done, nor word uttered, which leaves a single wound rankling in the breast. We are still one in faith in purpose, and in hope; but political changes, forced upon us by a stern necessity, have occurred which have placed our dioceses in a position requiring consultation as to our future ecclesiastical relations.”

In pursuance of this call, deputies from some of the Southern dioceses met together, first at Montgomery held an adjourned session in the ensuing autumn at Columbia, and there framed the constitution and canons which subsequently became the laws of the “General Council of the Church in the Southern States.” In all the preliminary proceedings, Bishop Elliott took a leading part, and showed himself a master of assemblies. It is pleasing now to recall the exquisite tact with which he guided the deliberations of the house to the end proposed; how patient he was of opposition, how respectful he was to the opinions of others, how easy to compromise in matters indifferent, and how unbending and intensely in earnest when asserting the truth and right. It is difficult to conceive any thing finer than his whole bearing. It has left upon the mind the impression that is left by a beautiful dream,—alas too soon vanished! When we look at the results of this legislation, we see but little to mark the difference between the constitution and canons of the General Convention and those of the General Council. But this was the important end attained,—that there was so little of change effected, where the opportunity for change was so boundless The result is given by Bishop Elliott himself, with characteristic felicity, in the Pastoral of the General Council. “The Constitution is the same as that of the Church from which we have been providentially separated, save that we have introduced into it a germ of expansion which was wanting in the old Constitution.” “The Canon law is the same moderate, just, and equal body of ecclesiastical law by which the Church has been governed on this continent since her reception from the Church of England of the treasures of an Apostolic ministry and a liturgical form of worship.” Upon the death of Bishop Meade,—that true and brave old Bishop, whose very name is a tower of strength,—Bishop Elliott became the senior Bishop of the “General Council.” The Pastoral set forth at the first session of that body was the production of his pen, and (in the language of “The Church Journal”) “in elevation of tone, in dignity, force, and beauty of style, has been surpassed by no Pastoral ever issued in this country.” The spirit which pervaded this Council was the self-same spirit which presided in the councils of the blessed Apostles, and they who were permitted to take part in its deliberations will ever fondly recur to its sessions as privileged beyond the ordinary assemblies of men. There was a Bishop at its head unto whom utterance had been given; and he sent forth to the world those words of peace and good will which then sounded so sweet amid the din of war, and are now so precious to us, who are gathering together these mementos of his worth and excellence. In his own glowing words, “Our first duty, therefore, as the children of God, is to send forth from this Council our greetings of love to the Churches of God all the world over. We greet them in Christ, and rejoice that they are partakers with us of all grace which is treasured up in Him. We lay down to-day before the altar of the Crucified all our burdens of sin, and offer our prayers for the Church Militant upon earth. Whatever may be their aspect towards us politically, we cannot forget that they rejoice with us in the one Lord, the one faith, the one baptism, the one God and Father of all; and we wish them God-speed in all the sacred ministries of the Church. Nothing but love is consonant with the exhibition of Christ’s love which is manifested to His Church; and any note of man’s bitterness, except against sin, would be a sound of discord mingling with the sweet harmonies of earth and Heaven. We rejoice in this golden cord, which binds us together in Christ our Redeemer; and like the ladder which Jacob saw in a vision, with the angels of God ascending and descending upon it, may it ever be the channel along which shall flash the Christian greetings of the children of God!”

The General Council no longer has an existence. It had fully accomplished its temporary mission in holding compactly together for a while the Southern dioceses, and in affording scope for their mutual helpfulness. When the results of war had fused the contending sections into one nationality, and after the General Convention had met and renewedly illustrated its traditional spirit, the General Council came together, released the several dioceses from their pledges of union, declared them free in good faith to renew old relations, and adjourned with the general understanding that there were no longer any sufficient grounds upon which a Churchman should desire to maintain a separate organization. I doubt if there is in history a more striking exemplification of the working of the true Church spirit than is to be found in the records of the two ecclesiastical bodies which met at Philadelphia and Augusta in the autumn of 1865.

I dwell at this time upon this period in the history of the Church, because the life of Bishop Elliott occupies a conspicuous place in the history of the whole movement, and because there are many who have misconceived, and in some instances have misrepresented, the motives by which he was actuated. He was one of the two Bishops who called together the Southern dioceses in council; and he it was, who, at a later period, set forth most emphatically the terms deemed essential to re-union. The General Council had performed certain acts, and those acts, he said, must be ratified. They were so ratified. There were no concessions made on either side, and none were asked. There was no occasion for the display of magnanimity, in the ordinary acceptation of the term. The course pursued by both parties was sensible, right, and churchlike. The wound, if there was any, healed, as in all healthy bodies it will, by first intention. I have spoken with confidence of Bishop Elliott’s course and motives during this period of his life, because I know whereof I affirm, and because it was during this period that I first made his intimate acquaintance. We felt and thought and acted together. Together we resolved to meet our brethren in General Council, and to be governed as circumstances might direct—if it should seem best—to undo our work with the same deliberation with which it had been done, and with what we deemed to be a due regard to the interests of all concerned. And I may mention here, as illustrative of the Bishop’s character, that when, having all things in readiness to declare the accession of his diocese to the General Convention, he found that the sister diocese of Alabama was suffering from a military intrusion, he took no step until advised that the intrusion had been withdrawn, and that the diocese was free to act in concert with his own. So true to nobleness were all his instincts. Some zealous and overheated minds have expressed surprise that Bishop Elliott and some others should have consented to a re-union of the Church. But they neither comprehended the man nor the spirit of the Church. It had been an easy task for him to have led a separate party, and he might thereby have gained a transient popularity. But he had higher aims. He loved the Church of God; ay, above his chief joy, he sought her peace and prosperity; and with that sweep of vision and that largeness of soul with which he was so richly endowed, he saw that the prestige and strength of the Church could only be preserved by her reunion; and at the proper time he spoke the emphatic word which practically settled the question. I doubt much if the moment of his highest exaltation as a man and a Churchman was not the moment, when, repressing all of personal feeling, and yet yielding no conviction and compromising no principle, he stood forth and said virtually, “The Church must close up her ranks. We are one in faith and hope—there must be no division in the body.”

In referring to this action of Bishop Elliott, a writer in “The Southern Churchman” (Rev. Dr. Slaughter) most truthfully and eloquently said,—”The whole South joins in the dirge over one of her most splendid products—her champion and her child, every pulse of whose large heart did beat in sympathy with her in her weal and woe. The whole Church should honor the memory of the man who wore the mitre so becomingly; ‘who was so pure in his vocation that his virtues did plead his cause’ like angels trumpet tongued; the man who, though born and ripened under a Southern sun, with all the fervor of a Southern man’s affections, instincts, and prejudices, at a critical moment hushed them into silence, and came forward, and laid them upon the altar of a bleeding Church to heal her wounds.”

I met with Bishop Elliott for the last time at the General Council in the autumn of 1865. Great changes had taken place. His fondest earthly hopes had been crushed, and his most sanguine predictions had been unfulfilled. He bore it all as became him. Strength and greatness never seem so attractive as when chastened by heavy affliction. Sorrow gives that softness of coloring which the painter is wont to use in his last touches when toning down the picture. There was the same winning smile, the same loving recognition, but withal, there was an undertone of indescribable tenderness which bespoke a great sorrow encountered and endured. The thought prominent in his mind was duty to the Church; and he it was, who in his closing address to the Council,—never written, and, alas! now no longer to be recalled,—gave expression to it. We should ask thus ran the tenor of his discourse—”not what will gratify our pride, and please the world, but what the interests of the Church demand, and what Christ would have us to do.” This selfsame spirit pervaded the action of the General Convention, which had closed its session a few weeks before at Philadelphia.
The blessed Spirit of God, the Holy Comforter, in answer to the prayers of the faithful, was moving upon the heart of the Church,—deep calling unto deep under the impulse of His mysterious power,—and the waters flowed together as do the waves of the sea which a passing vessel has for the moment parted asunder.

There is nothing upon this earth so beautiful as the spectacle of an heroic soul struggling manfully with adversity, yielding at last to manifest destiny, and bowing to the divine will in unquestioning submission. There are faithful men in these latter days, who have illustrated their faith by sacrifices greater even than that which the patriarch Abraham was preparing to make upon the mount. There are some things dearer to a man than the life of his child, and when sacrificed at the divine command, through faith, are most precious offerings in the sight of Heaven. It was one of my first thoughts, when I realized that all was over, “How does Bishop Elliott bear all this?” so long and so thoroughly identified had he been with that cause for which we were hoping and struggling. He bore it all most beautifully, as the permissive will of God without which not even a sparrow falleth to the ground. The faith which had waxed so strong in the time of action, rose to sublimity in the hour of submission. Most worthily did his demeanor illustrate the motto upon his official seal: “In utrumque paratus agere et pati.” Mysterious indeed to all of us were the providences of that hour, but what room for faith, if sight and reason had not altogether failed! It should be our delight to lose ourselves in the depths of the divine mysteries, because in the darkness and cloud God dwelleth, and there His children find. Him Thanks be to God that we have a Father so wise that we cannot always comprehend His ways, and so good that we can never distrust His love.

“Here bring your wounded hearts; here tell your anguish;
Earth has no sorrow that Heaven cannot heal.”

Not by the power of reason do we solve divine mysteries, and turn all our sadness into rejoicing, but by the application of faith. “Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in Thy sight.”

I little thought when I parted from the bishop, that I should see his face no more. His appearance gave promise of long-continued life. Time and suffering seemed to have made no serious impression on his vigorous frame, and there was no apparent abatement of his mental powers. But one is never the same after passing under a great pressure. The spring of life, when not broken, is always weakened by the strain. The grief which is denied outward expression, will flow back upon the heart, and in time will break it. He went about his work quietly and submissively, with the earnest purpose to do what yet remained to be done, but it was under circumstances of peculiar painfulness to a spirit like his. The rude tempest of war had swept through the bounds of his diocese, from the mountains to the seashore. He could not travel without seeing the marks of its violence, not only upon the devastated fields and burned cities, but upon dismantled and desecrated churches, “the abomination of desolation standing where it ought not.” From every quarter of his diocese, from vacated churches and impoverished people there came to him the cry for aid and counsel; and there was everywhere, too, to be heard that saddest lament of all, the cry of the orphan and the widow. To what straits the Southern Bishops have been driven in attempting to heed these cries, God and themselves only know. Is it any wonder that the pressure has proved too great for brain and heart?
It seems to us as if the death of our beloved Bishop had been premature, and that the tale of life had been cut short before it was all told, and a pity, too, when it was so beautiful in the telling. But we must learn to measure life, not so much by its length of continuance, as by the amount of work accomplished. Men who work hard will compress into threescore years what might have been, with less intensity, extended over the allotted threescore years and ten. It was enough that his Master was satisfied with his day’s work, and that he was called to rest before the sun went down.

“No ominous hour
Knocks at his door with tidings of mishap;
Far off is he above desire and fear;
No more submitted to the change and chance
Of the unsteady planets. Oh ’tis well
With him! but who knows what the coming hour,
Veiled in thick darkness, brings for us?”

Amid all his trials he had enjoyed a large share of life’s blessings. He had been permitted to preach the unsearchable riches of the great Redeemer in Whom he trusted. He had received honor from all honorable men. Earth, and Heaven upon earth, confers no greater honor upon man than to clothe him with the office of an ambassador for Christ in the highest ministry of the Church. He had lived to see his diocese grow up under his administration, and becoming strong in all the great centres, where men most do congregate. He was spared to see his children grown up around him, and the promises of God fulfilled towards them. This life had lost many of its attractions, and the gladdening dreams of youth had all fled from him. A new order of affairs, alien from his sympathies, was in progress around him. The present condition of things was dark, and in the future no rift in the clouds was discernible. The little flocks of his servants, which he had tended with a shepherd’s care, had been scattered, and came not, as of old, to his familiar call. The companions of his childhood had left him and the trusted friends of his early manhood had nearly all preceded him, and in the place of departed spirits were waiting to welcome him. Life was not what it had been to him—the same divine mission indeed the same call to duty, the same struggle; but it was a lone struggle. Meade, Cobbs, Otey, Polk, Rutledge,—all had left him; and the heart of a loving man feels sadly the need of loving hearts around him. Is it to be wondered at that he was weary, and ready, like a tired child, to lie down and rest? In his own words, delivered at the burial of his brother Cobbs, the late bishop of Alabama, he exclaimed,—and what a grateful significance his words have for us now!—”Oh, the sweetness of that word ‘rest!’ To cease from all the weariness of life; to be done with its cares its perplexities its sorrows, its miseries; to have fought the good fight of faith and ended the struggle; to have finished the work which God has given us to do and now to lie down and be at peace.”
All ended as he would have ordered it. Before the years had come wherein men find no pleasure; while yet the keepers of the house trembled not nor those that looked out of the windows were darkened; in the full possession of all his powers in the bosom of his family; spared the lingering sickness and the painful parting,—he gave up the ghost and was gathered to his fathers. Wife and children gather around the closing scene: hosts of friends crowd the procession and even the stranger is borne unwittingly along by the swelling throng. The loving arms of beloved servants, whom he had so long and lovingly borne upon his heart, bore his precious remains to their resting-place. Amid the scenes so dear to him, by the banks of the gentle Savannah and under the skies which had looked down upon his nativity; upon the holy festival of Christmas Day, amid anthems of Glory to God and Peace upon Earth,—he was laid in his place of rest. It is very sad to us who are left behind, but we have no tears of bitterness to shed for ourselves when the gain to him is so incalculable. “Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in Thy sight.” And for all Thy goodness and mercy to this our friend, brother, father, “We praise Thee, we bless Thee, we worship Thee, we glorify Thee, we give thanks to Thee for Thy great glory, O Lord God, Heavenly King, God the Father Almighty!”

Since writing the above, and preparing it for the press, I have heard an incident so characteristic of Bishop Elliott’s nobleness of soul, that I cannot refrain from recording and perpetuating it in these “Reminiscences.”

It has passed into history that the chief man of the “Confederacy” was captured, and imprisoned in the Fortress of Monroe to await trial for treason. That prison-life of Mr. Davis, with all its needless horrors and humiliations, has left a foul blot upon the history of that day. Those months of solitary imprisonment; his feeble body loaded with chains; that eye of the jailer ever fixed upon the prisoner’s every motion even in his devotions to the Most High,—what a picture of wanton insult! We, Southern people, are a forgiving people, for every true Southern man felt himself insulted in the person of his representative head. A man can be imprisoned, tried, convicted, and executed, and yet not insulted. The treatment of Jefferson Davis was a foul wrong, and we all felt it as a personal dishonor.

While the unhappy, but unsubdued, captive sat there in his lonely cell and chains,—for a long time forbidden to see even his priest,—Bishop Elliott importuned the authorities to be allowed to share the imprisonment of his chief—volunteered to partake of all its horrors. Glorious Elliott! such men redeem the character of the human race. Nor was the good Bishop alone in this sentiment. The vast Fortress of Monroe was all too small to enclose the crowd which would have sprung forward to emulate his spirit. If such men be traitors, I can only say,—

“Sit mea anima cum illis”

We of the South have not yet been schooled to enroll John Brown among “The noble army of martyrs.” The roll of the South records the names of quite other men. With these we have lived, and with these we hope to share eternity. For one I have no higher aspiration; for my posterity I ask of Heaven no richer boon.