Bishop’s Address of 1858

The Rt. Rev. Stephen Elliott
First Bishop of Georgia

Brethren of the Clergy and Laity:

Upon my return from Cuba, in the early part of June, 1857, I availed myself of the courtesy which you offered me by resolution, and in an appendix to your journal, gave a brief and hurried account of my episcopal acts, from May, 1856, to the period at which I had become disabled by sickness for any further service to the Church. I am permitted to say that the restoration of my health seems to be complete, and I meet you this day, through the mercy of God, as well as one rapidly advancing in years can reasonably hope to be. May our meeting be one of deep interest to the Church, and may no feelings enter into it save those of unity and love, and an ardent desire to advance the kingdom of Christ upon earth.

The Rt. Rev. Stephen Elliott

We are working for the Church at an exceedingly critical period of the world’s developement, and in a land in which all that makes the age remarkable is displayed in its rankest luxuriance. At no time of which we have any record, not even after the revival of letters and the invention of printing, has there been such an agitation of opinion as now pervades the earth. The ages of Faith seem to be past, and nothing is received nowadays because it has been established—nothing rested upon because the experience of years has commended it to the affections of men. Every thing, and religion among the rest, is undergoing a most stern and critical reexamination, and in many cases upon principles fatal to all truth and happiness. The heart of man is wandering restless and unsatisfied over a waste of cheerless desolation, finding no resting place for its weariness. God grant that it may be guided back to the ark of Christ’s Church, and may fold its wings in peace upon the bosom of its covenant God.

In no part of the world is this agitation more rife or more dangerous than in our own country, especially in matters of Faith. The exercise of private judgment is so entirely the tendency of all our institutions, forms so completely the essence and spirit of our national character, that it is extremely difficult to restrain its impulses, even when they come into conflict with the revealed will of God. Having been cast, in this new world, upon a virgin soil, requiring for its conquest individual ingenuity and novel appliances —having discarded the forms of government and many of the arrangements of social life which distinguished the civilization of Europe—having scattered, with a rude hand, not merely the prejudices, but the usages of a venerable antiquity, we have come to think that revelation is no more beyond the sphere of reason than any institution of man. The temptation is to treat revelation precisely as we have treated everything else—to strip away all that seems, at first sight, unintelligible or mysterious—to maintain faith in the moral teachings of our Saviour, and in the life and immortality which have come to light through the Gospel, but to cultivate a principle adverse to faith in whatever relates to the vital and distinctive principles of Christianity. And yielding to this temptation, a partial unbelief eats like a canker into the Church of Christ, sapping its foundations, enervating its influence, stripping it of its joy and peace. Starting upon an illogical principle—the principle that Reason may legitimately modify the notices of Revelation—-it runs rapidly into the error of emasculating Christianity and reducing it to a system in accordance with its own self-will or preconceived notions. One by one, while repudiating the charge of unbelief, the specific and essential doctrines of the Gospel are put aside, the divinity of our Lord, his atonement for sin, the personality of the Holy Ghost, the efficacy of prayer, the active influence of Satan and his angels, the resurrection of the body, the eternity of future punishments. No matter how plainly these things may be writ in Holy Scripture, no matter how they may lie as the cornerstone, elect, precious, of the whole system, no matter how they may be inwoven into the whole framework and structure of Christianity, they are quietly put aside, even while men flatter themselves that they are still Christians. Because they do not reject the morality of the Bible, nor scorn its rule of life, nor put contempt upon the external organization of the church, they look upon themselves as believers, even while they discard everything which is spiritually distinctive! And whether this condition of things takes the form of Rationalism or Spiritualism, it reaches, although by seemingly opposite means, the like result, of sapping all the essential doctrines of Christianity.

For such an evil, so subtle, so perilous, so increasing, there is but one remedy—the plainest and most positive teaching. The Church has furnished, in her creeds, her articles, and her services, the antidote so far as it can be embodied in formularies of faith; but the pulpit must likewise give no uncertain sound. The times call for the clearest and most dogmatic assertion of the truth as it is in Jesus, and I would urge upon you, my beloved brethren of the clergy, to rise up to a proper appreciation of the dangers which beset our common Christianity. Unbelief is much more rife within the churches of this land, than its ministers are willing to perceive—unbelief of the subtlest kind, because it uses the words of christian truth, while it strips them of their scriptural, and therefore inspired meaning. To dislodge this unbelief, which sits tempting at the ear of the church, to transform it into its own hideous shape, we must use weapons of celestial temper and startle it from its lair within the sacred precincts of the sanctuary. It is not for the Church and Church principles that we are now called to fight; it is for the very foundations of our Faith, nay, for the revealed Word of God itself. We must needs turn again to the first principles of Christianity. We must battle for revelation, for inspiration, for christian doctrine, for the means of grace, against neology, against rationalism, against science falsely so called, against spiritualism, against rash and ignorant interpretation of the scriptures, against propagandists of heresies which would have appalled the worst ages of the church. And this must we do, God helping us, by standing up boldly and faithfully for the yea, yea, nay, nay of revelation, for the plenary inspiration of the scriptures, for the Word of God as it stands associated, in the unrivalled translation of King James, with our holiest feelings and divinest affections, for the dogmatic teaching of the Church, as it has come down to us in her creeds and articles, for the assertion of all truth however unpopular or unpalatable it may be. Rut while we do this, we must do it in the spirit of love, because “the servants of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves;” and in the fulness of our ordination vows, that we “will maintain and set forward, as much as lieth in us, quietness, peace, and love, among all christian people.” And in this demeanour lies our strength, for kindness is stronger than argument, and love opens the way into the heart for truth. Two of the most beautiful prayers of our book breathe this spirit of the church, that “for all conditions of men” in which we pray “that the church universal may be so guided and governed by the good Spirit of God, that all who profess and call themselves christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of Life.” The other is that closing prayer of the institution office in which we pray that “by the operation of the Holy Ghost all christians may be so joined together in unity of spirit and the bond of peace, that they maybe an Holy Temple, acceptable unto God.”

My first Episcopal act after my return from Cuba, was the ordination of the Rev. Charles Coley to the Diaconate. This took place on Saturday, June 27, 1857, .in St. Paul’s Church, Augusta. The candidate was presented by Dr. Ford, and Messrs. Neely, Harison and Pinkerton took part in the services of the occasion. Mr. Coley was immediately appointed Missionary to Advent Church, Madison. The same day, with the consent of Dr. Ford, I baptized an infant in his Parish.

Sunday, June 28, I confirmed at St. Paul’s, Augusta, in the morning, eighteen persons, and in the afternoon, in the Church of the Atonement, four persons.

On Saturday, July 4, in pursuance of a resolution come to during the session of the General Convention of 1856, I attended a meeting of Bishops, Clergy and Laity, convened at the Lookout Mountain, for the purpose of organizing a Southern University. Delegates of one or other of these orders were present from North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. The meeting was opened with religious exercises, and an oration explanatory of the movement was delivered by the Rt. Rev. the Bishop of Tennessee. The proceedings of this meeting and of a subsequent one held in Montgomery, Alabama, in November last, have been laid upon the table of the Secretary, and will furnish the members of the Convention with full information upon all the points which have been settled in connection with this most, important enterprise.

The Northern and North Western Dioceses of the Episcopal Church of the United States, are amply provided with Literary and Theological Institutions of a high character, conducted upon the principles of the Church, which annually send forth ripe scholars armed for the assault of error and the defence of truth. Missouri, Kentucky and Virginia have likewise Church Colleges and Theological Seminaries already well established or of pregnant promise. South of these States, although various attempts have been made to establish Episcopal Colleges, they have all failed from the simple reason that the Church in any single Diocese was not strong enough to furnish proper endowments or a patronage ample enough to secure their prosperous existence. Besides, such Colleges, even had they continued to live, would, from their limited influence, have produced no lasting benefit to the Church nor any effect at all upon the standard of education. They could, at best, have only struggled for a precarious being, satisfied to do their work in an humble and unpretending manner. Observing this condition of things, the happy idea struck the Bishop of Louisiana that the Dioceses, thus situated, might do by combination what they could not effect alone, that they might, by an union of the wealth and intelligence which belongs to the Church from Virginia to Texas, build up an University, which should not only place the Episcopal Church in its true position before the country, but elevate the standard of scholarship throughout the South. It was a felicitous idea, and with that noble energy and practical power which characterize the man, he took immediate steps to infuse his own enthusiasm into his brethren of the Episcopal Bench, and secure their co-operation in embodying the conception which stirred within his own mind. This he did with singular effect, and a complete union, upon the very best principles, has been effected among ten Dioceses, including the whole Episcopal Church south of Virginia, Kentucky and Missouri. This union secures undoubted success, for within those limits the Episcopal Church contains a mass of intelligence, scholarship, refinement and wealth of which itself is scarcely aware—a mass, which if properly aroused, can give us an University that shall leave us nothing to desire in the way of education for our sons—that shall revive that ancient scholarship which our fathers brought from Eton and Westminster, from Oxford and Cambridge, and which is fast dying out under the Collegiate system of the present day.

The Bishops of the Church who have inaugurated this movement think that they see before the Southern States a condition of things which makes this movement imperatively necessary if we would secure for our sons anything like a sound and finished education within our own borders. Commencing as those States have all done with an University or College upon which it was intended to concentrate the influence and patronage of the State Legislature, they have one after another gradually abandoned that policy, and have year by year, incorporated Colleges in rivalry with the State College, thus dividing the patronage and affection of the people and founding in each State four or five Colleges, none of which is rich enough to furnish the means of highest education. The consequence has been, that the State Colleges have already, in some of the States, been cast off by the Legislatures, and in others the course of things is inevitably tending to the same result. None of the Southern States is more than able to sustain, when all its resources are concentrated, one proper College, but when the wealth and students of the State come to be directed into five or six different channels, the result is inevitable, a gradual lowering of the standard of education. I do not mean to say that under such a policy, education is not more generally diffused, nor would I deny that a larger number receives what is called a Collegiate education, but this is gained at the expense of such a scholarship as shall enable our sons to rank with the men of learning of other countries. And what we need at the South is men of the very highest and most perfect education—men who shall prove by their scholarship that our institutions are not adverse to the very highest intellectual culture—men who shall be able to maintain truth and right against all comers, not merely by the power of genius, but with the resources of learning and the traditions of the world. And under our republican institutions, with the State Governments entirely dependent upon the ever changing caprices of the people, we can hope for such scholarship only from an organization independent of all popular will as to its revenues and as immovable in its course and conduct as the Church of Christ itself. And we think we have struck the right chord in the Southern heart, when we invite the people of our Ten Dioceses to an union upon the comprehensive principles of the Episcopal Church —an union which, while its University shall be carried on under the superintendance of Episcopalians and under the permanency of Episcopacy, shall yet open its doors, in the very widest manner, to young men of all religious denominations, and welcome them heartily to its benefits and blessings. There is no reason why we may not educate annually for these Southern Dioceses a large body of young men, who shall go forth armed with all the learning of the Schools, and fitted for every sphere and purpose of life. It requires nothing but a determination on the part of the Laity of our Dioceses to bring about this happy result, and I cannot believe that they will be blind to the best interests of their children and the highest good of their social life.

In arranging the principles of this University, we have adopted several which are unique and of the utmost importance to our ultimate success. We have placed the external management of the University in a Board of Trustees consisting of the Bishops of each of the ten Dioceses, and of one Clergyman and two Laymen from each Diocese, making a Board of forty Trustees, and placing each Diocese, no matter what may be the amount of its contributions, upon a footing with every other Diocese. This preserves the principle of Diocesan equality, and prevents the management of the University from being controlled by one or two powerful Dioceses. This Board is divided, whenever such a division may be called for, into two houses, preserving that feature in our General Convention which makes the Bishops one house and the Clerical and Lay Deputies another, and permits them to have a veto each upon the action of the other. This seems unimportant in ordinary times, but in the surge of excitement, it is necessary and conservative in the highest degree.

No work, involving expense, is to be begun upon the University until such time as the Trustees shall have funded the sum of five hundred thousand dollars and, even then, nothing is ever to be used, for any purpose whatever, except the annual interest. To render this principle inviolable, each Diocese is to elect a Treasurer into whose hands are to be placed all the funds collected within that Diocese, who shall pay over to the Treasurer of the University only the interest of such funds. These funds are to be invested in proper securities, and shall revert, if the university fail, to the donors, or their heirs, or devisees. This secures all the money subscribed from waste, and continues it as property in which the donors have a contingent right.

At the meeting held in Montgomery, the Board decided, after mature and prolonged examination, upon the important matter of location. No question could have been more thoroughly sifted than it was. Witnesses from every quarter were examined—speeches were listened to from every one who chose to make them—scientific surveys were laid before the Board, and when all this had been done, occupying ten days, it was determined that no location should be settled upon except by two-thirds of each house voting separately. The Board went into the ballot with great difference of opinion, and for a time it seemed doubtful whether any result could be come to. The contest in the Board was between those who preferred a mountain location and those who went for the lower position of such towns as Huntsville, Atlanta, and Cleveland. It was finally decided, and I think, most wisely, to locate the University upon the plateau of the Cumberland Mountains at a point called Sewanee.

In settling this question we kept in view the objects which we had before us in establishing this University. We desired to make it not only the training school for our sons, but a social and literary centre for the South—a point at which the refined and intellectual people of our ten dioceses might assemble annually, and create an influence most beneficial not only to the students, but to the whole South. To bring this about, there must be added to the attractions of a parent’s love, the additional ones of exquisite scenery, and a delicious climate. And no where in the whole South are these requisites more perfectly combined than upon the Cumberland plateau. Having an average elevation of 1800 feet above the level of the sea, with a table land upon the summit of from five to ten miles in width, as level as any low-land, with springs of freestone water gushing out in the richest abundance, with coal, timber, and building materials all around it, with a rich farming country lying at its base, with a rail road running to its summit and passing through the lands which have been given to the University, with scenery of the most magnificent description breaking upon the eye from every direction, and above all with an atmosphere admitting of study during the hottest months of the year, and a healthfulness of the most undoubted permanence, it united everything that we could desire. The single objection made to it, and that by interested parties who were struggling to locate the University at their own doors, and thus enhance the value of their property, the objection of milk-sickness, as it is called, was before us when we came to our conclusion, was denied then, and has since been put to rest by testimony of the most indisputable kind. The University was a great prize to be drawn by some locality, and the moment it was decided in favor of any point, all the disappointed places opened upon the fortunate locality with a bitterness, and in some instances a vulgarity, which satisfied us that we had decided aright in shunning their neighborhood. The same cry or some other, equally virulent, would have been raised against any spot we might have selected. Sewanee has only reaped the penalty of successful fortune.

Since the adjournment of the Board in November last, we have obtained a very excellent charter from the Legislature of Tennessee, granting us everything we can wish in this connection. Bishop Polk, of Louisiana, and myself were appointed the agents of the Board to collect the funds for the endowment of the University.

As the Diocese of Georgia has not yet given her adhesion to this confederation of Dioceses for this great scheme of education, it will be necessary for this Convention to decide that question, and if decided affirmatively, then to elect one clerical and two lay delegates as its portion of the Board of Trustees, and a Treasurer to hold the funds of the University belonging to this Dioeese.

In pursuance of my episcopal duties, I confirmed, in private, on the 29th Sepember, in Savannah, one sick person, attached to St. John’s Church, Savannah.

On Wednesday, October 7, I confirmed in Emmanuel Church, Athens, twenty-three persons, and on the subsequent Lord’s day two additional candidates. During my visitation of this Parish, I attended the night school under the superintendence of Dr. Henderson, and was exceedingly pleased with its conduct and results. Under the energetic ministry of Dr. Henderson the Church at Athens is receiving new life, and bids fair to become rapidly strong and vigorous.

On the night of the 22d Sunday after Trinity, Nov. 8th, I confirmed in St. Stephen’s Chapel [colored] under the care of Rev. S. W. Kennerly, eight persons. This chapel is a decided success, and is rapidly gathering a large and intelligent congregation within its bosom.

Sunday, November 22d, I visited Trinity Church, Columbus, and confirmed twelve persons. The week subsequent to this was spent in Montgomery upon business of the University of the South, already alluded to.

December 13th, I confirmed, in St. John’s Church, Savannah, four persons. On Sunday, Dec. 20th, I admitted in Christ Church, Savannah, the Rev. Marion McAllister to the Holy Order of Priests.

I visited Christ Church, Macon, on Sunday, Feb. 28, and confirmed four persons. I preached three times and catechised the children.

Sunday, March 14th, I confirmed in Church of the Messiah, St. Mary’s, five persons. I regret to say that this Parish has beeh again left vacant by the removal of the Rev. M. McAllister to the Diocese of California. We deeply regret his loss to this Diocese, but as duty seemed to call him to another sphere, we wish him the choicest blessings of Heaven upon his future career.

Sunday, March 21st, I confirmed, in St. Andrew’s Church, Darien, seventeen persons, and at night two others. This Parish is rapidly growing, and dwelling in unity and peace with their highly valued and much beloved pastor.

On Thursday, March 25, I officiated in the morning at St. David’s, Glynn County. The candidates for confirmation were prevented by sickness and affliction from presenting themselves at the Church. In the evening of the same day, I officiated in Brunswick to a large and attentive congregation.

On Sunday, April 4, (Easter Sunday,) I confirmed, at Christ Church, Savannah, in the morning, fourteen persons, and in the afternoon of the same day I held a second confirmation in St. Stephen’s Chapel, when thirteen persons, all colored, were confirmed.

On Sunday night, April 11, I confirmed, in St. Paul’s Church, Albany, ten persons. I preached four times and catechised the children of the parish. This Church has been relieved of its debt and is in very promising condition.

On Tuesday, April 13, I proceeded to Americus. where I was hospitably entertained by Mr. Ambrose Spencer, and officiated in the Methodist Church, which was kindly tendered to me by the minister of that station. The next day, the Episcopalians assembled at the house of Mr. Spencer, and organized a Church under the name of St. John’s Church.

On Friday, April 16th, I officiated, morning and night, in St. Stephen’s, Milledgeville, and at night confirmed two persons. With the consent of the Rector, I baptised three infants. The Rev. Wm. M. Carmichael, late of Western New-York, took charge of this church in November last, and is reviving it.

On Sunday, April 18,I officiated morning and night in St. Philip’s Church, Atlanta. As the Rector was absent upon important business connected with his Church no candidates were presented for confirmation.

Wednesday and Thursday, April 21st and 22d, I officiated at St. Peter’s Church, Rome, and on the latter day confirmed ten persons, two colored. This Parish is in a most flourishing and happy condition under the Ministry of the Rev. Mr. Clarke. Their success shows what energy and union can effect.

Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday were spent in Marietta, and on Sunday I confirmed one person. Since the removal of Mr. Habersham to South Carolina, Mr. Hunt has very kindly officiated for the Congregation and has done every thing for them which he could. The Vestry have taken measures to rid themselves of a Church debt which has been worrying them and to provide the Church with a Rector.

On Tuesday, April 27th. Officiated in Madison and confirmed in the evening three candidates presented by the Rev. Mr. Coley, (Deacon.) The Church in Madison is small, but promises growth.

Wednesday Night, April 28, I made a second visitation to Emmanuel Church, Athens, and confirmed eleven persous. These added to the previous) confirmed in October, make thirty-six for the year.

Sunday Afternoon, May 2d, I officiated in St. John’s Church, Savannah, a second visit, and confirmed five persons.

This terminated my work for the Conventional year, and it gives me much satisfaction to say that I have never seen the Church in Georgia in as good condition, nor displaying more energy and zeal. This Convention is an evidence of that growing interest in Church matters which I trust that the Laity is about to take. I would impress it upon those present here, how deeply important it is for the Church that her members should show practical interest in her welfare. This slight sacrifice will tell much upon the interests and influence of the Church.

During the past year I have received from the diocese of Western New-York, the Rev, Wm. M. Carmichael, who is filling St. Stephen’s Church, Milledgeville ; from the Diocese of Virginia, the Eev. Messrs. Kershaw and Ward. Of these Mr. Ward is officiating at Talbotton, and Mr. Kershaw has returned to Virginia. I have ordained Mr. Coley to the Diaconate, and Mr. McAllister to the Priesthood. I have dismissed the Rev. B. E. Habersham to the Diocese of South Carolina, the Rev. Mr. Kershaw to Virginia, and the Rev. Mr. McAllister to California.

Your notice will be called by the Secretary of the Convention to two proposed alterations of the Constitution which have been sent down for your consideration from the General Convention.

And now brethren, let me commend you to the grace of God and pray that His Spirit may preside over all your deliberations, and may guide you to all your conclusions. He alone can preserve you from error and from evil.


On motion of Rev. Mr. Williams, it was

Resolved, That so much of the Bishop’s address as relates to the University of the South, be referred to a committee of five, consisting of the Bishop, two clergymen, and two laymen.

The Chair appointed on the Committee, the Rev. Dr. Ford, Rev. Mr. Williams, Mr. Chas. Spalding, Mr. Daniel Griffin.