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Robert Richardson
Memoirs of Alexander Campbell, Volume II. (1869)



C H A P T E R   XIII .

College of Teachers--Roman Catholic debate--Discussion with Mr. Skinner
--S. W. Lynd--Christians among the sects--Mr. Styles.

I N a few weeks after his return from his Northern tour, Mr. Campbell visited Cincinnati, where he had agreed to deliver a lecture before the College of Teachers. This association consisted of those who were or had been teachers, and its sessions were devoted to public lectures on education and to discussions upon the various important questions connected with that subject. When the college met, 3d of October, Dr. Joshua L. Wilson gave the introductory lecture, in which he recommended the Bible as a universal school-book. To this objection was made in the subsequent discussion by Bishop Purcell, who had formerly been in charge of the Catholic seminary, "Mount St. Mary's College," at Emmittsburg, Maryland. Mr. Campbell, surprised at the bold manner in which the exclusion of the Bible from the public schools was advocated, was still more so when, after the delivery of his own lecture on "Moral Culture," in which he had connected the rapid march of modern improvement with the spirit of inquiry produced by the Protestant Reformation, Bishop Purcell took strong exception to this doctrine, openly affirming that "the Protestant Reformation had been the cause of all the contention and infidelity in the world." As this proposition was quite foreign to the business of the [422] convention, where religious discussions were not allowed, Mr. Campbell informed the bishop that, if he wished a discussion on that subject, he was prepared for it, and would attend to it when convenient to him, but that in the College he could only defend his assertion as to its bearings on education. Bishop Purcell, in reply, declared himself in favor of free discussion, saying that his word was the word of God, commanding, "Let there be light." As he did not, however, signify his acceptance of Mr. Campbell's proposition, the latter, after the meeting, gave public notice that he would speak upon the subject on the Monday evening following in the Sycamore Street meeting-house. At the close of his address, Bishop Purcell, who was present, was invited to reply, but requested an adjournment to the next evening, when he spent most of the time in a tirade of abuse against Martin Luther and the Reformation, and when Mr. Campbell proposed to have the discussion subjected to moderators and to proper rules, declined any further debate. Mr. Campbell then, on the following evening, in the Wesley chapel, addressed a very crowded assembly upon the subjects involved, and gave notice at the close that he designed to prosecute the matter no farther, summing up the whole, however, in six propositions, which he declared himself at any time able to sustain. Next day he received the following note:

"CINCINNATI, October 13, 1836.      

      DEAR SIR; The undersigned, citizens of Cincinnati having listened with great pleasure to your exposure and illustrations of the absurd claims and usages of the Roman Catholic Church, would respectfully and earnestly request you to proceed immediately to establish before this community the six propositions announced at the close of your lecture last [423] evening. This request is made under the conviction that the present state of feeling in this city, and the critical state of the country with reference to Romanism, demand this, and will fully justify such a course, and also with the expectation that it may result in much good to the cause of Protestantism in the West."

      This letter was signed by a large number of the most respectable citizens, and the following P. S. was added: "One-half of the city could be obtained would time permit. Fearing your hasty departure induces the above persons to hand it in without delay."

      Mr. Campbell, in reply, after giving a brief statement of the circumstances which had led to the introduction of the subject, and re-stating his propositions, frankly consented to sustain them publicly against Bishop Purcell or any of the Catholic priesthood, stipulating only that, in order to give proper publicity to the matter and to afford him time to fulfill his existing engagements, the meeting should be postponed till about the beginning of the new year, when he would, either in a discussion or in public lectures, endeavor to maintain the propositions he had submitted. Bishop Purcell having subsequently consented to meet Mr. Campbell, the propositions were arranged as follows:

      "1. The Roman Catholic institution, sometimes called the Holy Apostolic Church, is not now nor was she ever catholic, apostolic or holy; but is a sect in the fair import of that word, older than any other sect now existing; not the 'mother and mistress of all churches,' but an apostasy from the only true, apostolic and catholic Church of Christ.

      "2. Her notion of apostolic succession is without any foundation in the Bible, in reason or in fact; an imposition of the most injurious consequences, built upon unscriptural and anti-scriptural traditions, resting wholly upon the opinions of interested and fallible men. [424]

      "3. She is not uniform in her faith or united in her members, but mutable and fallible as any other sect of philosophy or religion--Jewish, Turkish or Christian--a confederation of sects under a politico-ecclesiastic head.

      "4. She is the Babylon of John, the Man of Sin of Paul, and the Empire of the Youngest Horn of Daniel's sea monster.

      "5. Her notions of purgatory, indulgences, auricular confession, remission of sins, transubstantiation, supererogation, etc., essential elements of her system, are immoral in their tendency and injurious to the well-being of society, religious and political.

      "6. Notwithstanding her pretensions to have given us the Bible and faith in it, we are perfectly independent of her for our knowledge of that book and its evidences of a divine original.

      "7. The Roman Catholic religion, if infallible and unsusceptible of reformation, as alleged, is essentially anti-American, being opposed to the genius of all free institutions and positively subversive of them, opposing the general reading of the Scriptures and the diffusion of useful knowledge among the whole community, so essential to liberty and the permanency of good government."

      The following were the rules of discussion:

      "1. We agree that the copyright of the discussion shall be sold to some bookseller, who shall have it taken down by stenographers, and that all the avails of the copyright shall be equally divided between any such two public charities as Bishop Purcell and Mr. Campbell shall respectively designate.

      "2. That the discussion shall take place in the Sycamore Street meeting-house, and shall continue seven days, exclusive of Sunday, commencing this morning, from half-past 9 o'clock, A. M., to half-past 12, and from 3 to 5 P. M., each day.

      "3. Mr. Campbell shall open the discussion each session, and Bishop Purcell respond. During the morning session the first speech of each shall not exceed one hour, nor the [425] second half an hour. In the afternoon each speaker shall occupy only half an hour.

      "4. The discussion shall be under the direction of a board of five moderators, of whom each party shall choose two, and these the fifth; any three of which shall constitute a quorum.

      "5. The duties of the moderators shall be to preserve order in the assembly and to keep the parties to the question."

      The moderators appointed were John C. Rodgers, Mr. Hite, William Disney, Samuel Lewis and Jacob W. Piatt. On Friday, January 13, 1837, the debate commenced, and was conducted with the utmost order, harmony and good feeling. A constantly increasing interest was manifested by the citizens until its close.

      As this discussion has been extensively circulated in print, it would be unnecessary to speak particularly of its merits, which have been so generally acknowledged. Some matters connected with it, however, and the impressions made upon the community at the time, may be given. Mr. Campbell, on this occasion, had to contend against several unfavorable circumstances. On the way to Cincinnati he had contracted a violent cold, which rendered him feverish, and by which he was much oppressed during the consideration of the first three propositions. At the close of this period, upon taking some medicine, he obtained relief, and a marked difference was afterward noticeable in the clearness of his voice and the vigor of his replies. His next speech of an hour on the fourth proposition was so grand and overwhelming that it made a most profound impression, not only upon the audience, but apparently upon Bishop Purcell himself, who, it was observed, seemed quite unable to recover from the force of Mr. Campbell's graphic delineation of Romanism and its identification [426] with "the Babylon of John, the Man of Sin of Paul, and the Little Horn of Daniel's vision." Meanwhile, Mr. Charles Hammond, editor of the "Gazette," for whose abilities Mr. Campbell entertained a very high respect, had taken unexpectedly, as was supposed for political and personal reasons, the side of the Catholics, and endeavored to forestall public opinion by representing the debate as a war upon the Catholics, and as a failure in the estimation of the citizens even while it was yet in progress, and he had not himself heard the full discussion of a single proposition. This misrepresentation of public opinion led to a large meeting of the citizens at the close of the discussion, at which the following resolutions were passed:

      "1. Resolved, That it is the unanimous opinion of this meeting that the cause of Protestantism has been fully sustained throughout this discussion.

      "2. Resolved, That it is our opinion the arguments in favor of Protestantism, and the objections to the errors of popery, have not yet been met.

      "3. Resolved, That we look forward to the publication of this discussion as a powerful antidote to the sophistry and arrogance of all the advocates of Romanism; and that we have the fullest confidence in submitting it to the impartial decision of the American people.

      "4. Resolved, That we approve of the spirit and temper, and were pleased with the power of argument and the authorities by which Mr. Campbell sustained his positions, and concur with him in possessing no unkind feeling or prejudices toward individuals, but believe the principles of Romanism inconsistent with our free institutions."

      A high degree of excitement prevailed through the city, and some severe animadversions were published in the papers upon the course which Mr. Hammond had thought proper to pursue. A sharp correspondence [427] upon the subject also took place between him and Mr. Campbell, and distinguished clergymen, among whom was Asa Shinn, who had heard the debate, felt called upon to come forward and give their testimony as to its merits. Among various notices, highly complimentary to Mr. Campbell, the following appeared in the "Philanthropist" from the pen of its editor, Mr. Birney, a distinguished lawyer and a gentleman of high standing and unblemished character:

      "Although we attended through nearly the whole of the discussion, we do not intend to give any connected summary of the arguments. We give no more than our impressions. The debate is in course of preparation to be published, and we can confidently say it will be found not only interesting, but instructive to its readers in a matter about which we are all more uninformed and supine than we ought to be.

      "We found no reason in the late debate for altering the opinion we expressed, when speaking about the former one, of the deficiency of Bishop Purcell in argumentative powers. He is evidently a well-read man, especially in the history of the Roman Church, and his mind is handsomely enriched with the current literature of the day. His mental laboratory is abundantly replenished with facts. They seem, however, rather to have been provided for its garniture than for any more profitable use. In the employment of these for the purposes of manly and dignified argument he seems, in our judgment, exceedingly unskilled and inexperienced. This deficiency arises, we apprehend, not so much from any feebleness in any natural powers as from erroneous mental training, which receives everything that is Roman Catholic as true, and everything that is not Roman Catholic as false. The debate of the first day satisfied us that in the mere struggle between the disputants there could be but little of interest. Their strength was altogether too disproportioned; and had it not been for the various unworthy appeals made by the bishop to the prejudices of the audience (for these attempts continued [428] throughout, and aggravated as the end drew near) to win favor by casting odium on Mr. Campbell personally, we should have felt for him the same kind of commiseration that we do for a man of diminutive bodily size and feeble powers, who, although he is the aggressor, is receiving from his overgrown, two-fisted adversary good-humored though long-continued and painful castigation.

      "Ill as we thought of Romanism before on many grounds, but chiefly because it demands of the great body of its rank and file to surrender to the 'officers and staff' the most precious right that God has bestowed on them--the right of judging for themselves on their most important concerns for this life and for that which is to come--and because its management is mysteriously and sedulously concealed from the inspection of the community, our opinion of it is now tenfold more unfavorable. If Bishop Purcell has made for it the best defence of which it is susceptible, or one that is even respectable, it is a deeply-contrived system of absurdities in theory and abominations in practice, and calls at once for examination, that it may meet with the abhorrence of every republican and Christian who has any proper regard for personal liberty or intellectual independence.

      "Every one present at the debate must have wondered at the strangeness of the scene in this country--a well-informed man, a good scholar, a learned man, and on other matters apparently in his right mind, insisting substantially, before an American audience, that it was incumbent on those who had not already done so to assign all their right of judging and determining for themselves in religious matters to a CHURCH, some fifty or more of whose HEADS (the popes) were acknowledged to be now, probably, suffering in penal fires the just recompense of lives spent in iniquity! Yet this he did, and we doubt not with all due sincerity. Nor did it appear less strange to hear such a one contending that the bread and wine used in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper were converted into the actual and bone fide flesh and blood of the Saviour. [429]

      "So far as Mr. Campbell was concerned, we can speak with unalloyed pleasure. His facts were judiciously selected, his historical landmarks well chosen, presenting, without the confusion that too often occurs from introducing too many things, his case with great plainness and simplicity. Every point on which we heard him fully, we thought he fully sustained. And then it was all done with such unaffected calmness, such dispassionateness and an evident desire to arrive at the truth for the truth's sake; with such Christian forbearance in the midst of provoking assaults from his adversary (although he had multiplied opportunities for impaling him), and the most ungenerous treatment received daily from a part of the political press of this city, that, had we ever before entertained any prejudices against Mr. Campbell, he would, by his conduct, amidst so many and such long-continued trials, have well nigh dissipated them.

      "Toward the conclusion of the debate, the bishop increased in excitement--so much so, that on one occasion during the afternoon of the day previous to its termination, when he supposed Mr. Campbell had quoted inaccurately from a Roman Catholic author, it appeared almost unnatural.

      "But we must draw our remarks to a conclusion, with these inferences from what we know and from what we have heard of Romanism. It cannot be made to consist with free political institutions nor with mental independence. Like slavery, it demands all--is content with nothing less. Its mode of warfare is to imprison, to cramp, to crush the mind, knowing that when this is accomplished every other triumph is easily won.

      "Bad as is our opinion of it in theory and in practice, there is but one way of putting it aside--free and fair and generous discussion. Let there be among its opposers no guile, no malice, no persecution, but give the TRUTH room, and with its naked and unshorn energies it will put this and every other error, however formidable and securely entrenched, to a full and.everlasting flight."

      The quotation referred to by Mr. Birney as the [430] occasion of Bishop Purcell's singular excitement was from the Moral Theology of Alphonsus de Ligorio, of which a synopsis in English had been given by a Mr. Smith, of New York, a convert from Romanism. The passage read thus:

      "A bishop, however poor he may be, cannot appropriate to himself pecuniary fines without the license of the Apostolic See. But he ought to apply them to pious uses. Much less can he apply those fines to anything else than religious uses, which the Council of Trent has laid upon the non-resident clergymen, or upon those clergymen who keep concubines." Lig. Ep. Dec. Mor., p. 444.

      Mr. Campbell had introduced this passage to show that amongst the Roman clergy marriage was a greater sin than concubinage, because marriage produced instant excommunication, while concubinage was fined and winked at. Bishop Purcell declared that no such doctrine was ever taught by Catholics, and that no such passage was ever written by St. Ligori.

      "I have examined," said he, "these volumes," pointing to the nine volumes of Ligori on the stand, "from cover to cover, and in none of them can so much as a shadow be found for the infamous charges. I have pledged myself to show to every man of honor in the city that the last allegation read by the gentleman, purporting to be from the works of Ligori, is not to be found in the works of that author."

      The bishop then called on Professor Biggs to examine the nine volumes of Ligori to see if he could find the passage referred to by Mr. Smith. But the professor finding that the paging did not accord with that of the edition used by Mr. Smith, declined examining farther. The bishop then referred the case to Mr. Kinmont, a classical teacher in the city, who, after [431] having had a day to examine, was brought upon the stage by the bishop and testified that he had not been able to find the passage. Great excitement was naturally produced by the directness of the issue thus formed, and the vast importance which the bishop seemed to attach to it. Mr. Campbell not being able to find the passage from the reference in Mr. Smith's synopsis, promised to investigate the matter, and F. W. Emmons, who was present, having at his request dispatched a note to Mr. Smith upon the subject, received from him at once a reply, stating that the passage in question was on page 444 of the eighth volume. Upon receiving this communication, Mr. Campbell asked from Bishop Purcell the loan of St. Ligori's works, and on turning to page 444, volume eighth, found every word in the bishop's own edition just as had been quoted. He then took the original Latin and the synopsis of Mr. Smith to Mr. Kinmont, who then certified that the version of Smith, as quoted, was a faithful translation of the passage. The bishop's emphatic denial of the existence of such a doctrine in the moral theology of Rome, had, at the time, considerable effect in creating doubt upon the subject, but the result of the investigation greatly injured the cause he defended and justly served to throw discredit upon his frequent denials and denunciations during the debate in regard to other authorities and evidences which Mr. Campbell adduced in support of his propositions. The people could hardly impute to ignorance of the "Moral Theology" of his own Church or of the writings of St. Ligori, his positive averments that no such doctrine as the one in question was held by Roman Catholics, and were consequently led to attribute his bold denials to motives to which the application of the epithet "moral" was as inappropriate as it [432] was to his "Theology" itself, but certainly quite as much needed for the information of the credulous.

      The discussion terminated greatly to the satisfaction of the Protestant clergy of Cincinnati and vicinity, among whom was the celebrated Lyman Beecher, and they concurred in bestowing upon Mr. Campbell the warmest commendations. It had a happy effect also in disabusing them of much of the prejudice they entertained against him, and of gaining for his plea for primitive Christianity a more candid hearing. The Roman Catholics, on the other hand, continued to employ as usual every means in their power to throw discredit upon him and to conceal the discomfiture of their champion. The debate, when published, had a very extensive sale, and a powerful effect in exposing to the community at large the false pretensions and dangerous tendencies of the Roman hierarchy, and raised Mr. Campbell to a much higher position than he had yet attained in the estimation of the public. His share of the proceeds arising from the sale of the book he donated to the "American and Foreign Bible Society" and to the "American Bible Society" in equal portions. Early in 1838, eight hundred dollars had already accrued from the copyright, which was six cents per copy.

      Prior to the Catholic debate, Mr. Campbell had received overtures for a written discussion of Universalist with a Mr. Skinner, who was one of the most prominent of its defenders. This accordingly commenced immediately afterward, and was continued in the "Harbinger" for more than two years. As much of it consisted in mere debates about words and criticisms upon translations of certain words, it excited but little interest; and though Mr. Campbell clearly confuted the Universalist arguments, and proved the [433] certainty of future punishment from the Scriptures, Mr. Skinner's quibbling and abusive course in the discussion led him to employ a severity distasteful both to himself and to his readers, so that he regretted having agreed to allow Mr. Skinner space for a specified number of essays, and that he could not promptly dismiss his captious cavils from the pages of the "Harbinger." Far different in tone and character was the discussion which Mr. Campbell carried on during a portion of the same period with S. W. Lynd, a talented Baptist minister of Cincinnati, upon the interminable subject of converting power, Mr. Campbell still opposing the popular doctrine of a regeneration before faith, or the necessity of special spiritual operations to enable sinners to believe the gospel, as calculated to make the word of God of none effect, and as a modern theological theory without any scriptural evidence of its truth.

      "But," said he, "in rejecting these speculative traditions of the elders, I am very far from rejecting the Spirit himself as necessary to our sanctification and salvation. God our Father gave his Son for us, and he gives his Spirit to us. The promise of his Son was a peculiar glory of the Old Testament, while the promise of his Spirit is the distinguishing excellency of the New. By the sacrifice of his Son the guilt of sin is taken from us; by the power and grace of his Holy Spirit the power of sin is subdued within us.

      "Nor do we think it necessary to inquire how or in what manner the Spirit operates through the truth on our spiritual nature before we confidently ask for his presence, power and comfort. It is enough to know that the Holy Spirit has been promised and that we are commanded to ask for it. In no other matter would a person wait till he understood how a favor was to be bestowed before he asked for it. We have a command to ask, to seek, to knock, and the promise of receiving, finding and obtaining all that we ask in faith, and [434] all that we could wish on the subject. Our duty is plain, however mysterious our philosophy; our privileges are clear, however dark our metaphysics may be."

      About this time a somewhat protracted discussion was carried on in the "Harbinger" in relation to the position of unimmersed believers to the Christian Church. In this M. S. Clapp, T. M. Henley, M. Winans and others took part, and it became evident that a widespread conviction existed that the term Christian could not, in its scriptural, legitimate and full sense, be applied to any except those who had been baptized into Christ according to the primitive model. Mr. Campbell, admitting this, urged, nevertheless, that the term had now come to be applied to the character, rather than, as in the beginning, to the state or profession of an individual, and that in this respect it might be employed, or that they who manifested the character of Christians, even though mistaken in regard to baptism, might be called at least disciples of Christ, as this designation was used in Scripture of those who were as yet but imperfectly acquainted with the nature and institutions of the gospel. Among the reasons which led Mr. Campbell to give place to the discussion of this subject at the time, he mentions several, such as that some professed Reformers "were too much addicted to denouncing the sects and representing them en masse as wholly antichristian and corrupt." . . ."

      "These very zealous brethren," continued he, "gave countenance to the popular clamor that we make baptism a saviour or a passport to heaven, disparaging all the private and social virtues of the professing public." He gives as another reason that he had been accused of "aspiring to build up and head a party"--an impression which he desired to remove. He showed that from the very beginning the Reformation had [435] called upon the people of God among the different parties to come out from among them and unite upon the true and original "foundation upon which all Christians might form one communion," and that in the "Christian Baptist" and the "Harbinger" he had often expressed similar views. He regarded "a conciliatory, meek and benevolent attitude" on the part of the Reformers u not only the most comely and Christian-like, but the most successful in bringing men to understand the gospel." "Many of the Protestant teachers and their communities," said he, "are much better disposed to us than formerly, and I conclude the day is not far distant when many of them will unite with us. They must certainly come over to us whenever they come to the Bible alone."

      The evidences of this favorable change in the feelings of most of the religious parties was indeed constantly accumulating. The debate with Bishop Purcell had awakened a considerable degree of sympathy among Protestants, who had been somewhat surprised to see one whom they had mistaken for a foe become the defender of the great truths and doctrines which they cherished in common. They began accordingly to examine more dispassionately Mr. Campbell's writings, and to perceive more clearly through the breaking mists of prejudice the truly catholic character of the principles which he advocated.

      On the 24th of June of this year (1837) another son was born to him, to whom, from his unbounded admiration for the great English Reformer, he gave the name of Wickliffe. In the fall (Oct.), he attended the meeting of the College of Teachers at Cincinnati, at which, to his high gratification, a resolution was passed to the effect, "That in the judgment of the College, the Bible should be introduced into every school, from the lowest to the highest, as a school-book." To this was added, at Mr. Campbell's instance, an amendment, seconded [436] by Bishop Purcell, that the Bible should be "without denominational or sectarian comment." From Cincinnati he visited Dayton and spoke three times, and from thence proceeded to Versailles, Kentucky, where he held a three days' meeting. The succeeding day (Monday) he devoted to a conference with a Presbyterian preacher, a Mr. Styles, who for a number of months had been loudly inveighing against the views which he imputed to the Reformers, and had vauntingly called upon them to bring Mr. Campbell to defend them. At the conference, however, he declined to attempt to sustain his allegations, for which he apologized by imputing them to his peculiar temperament, and agreed to give Mr. Campbell the right hand of fellowship if he would concur with him in the position that the Spirit accompanied the Word in conversion. Mr. Campbell replied that "this was not a point of controversy between him and the Presbyterians; and that whether true or false, this doctrine was comparatively innocent, because it led men to the Bible and to expect no saving light or health but through the written Word. But the theory he opposed was that of a holy principle wrought in the heart before and without any knowledge of the Word, by a special act of the Spirit. Hence he would debate only this dogma of spiritual influence without the Word, because this certainly made the word of God of none effect, and had opened the door for all the enthusiasm and fanaticism of latter times."

      Mr. Styles replied that he did not believe this doctrine, and that the Presbyterians did not teach it, and brought forward the Confession of Faith to prove his assertion, Mr. Campbell took the same Confession and showed that it did teach it, but said he would settle the matter with a single question, viz.: Did he not believe [437] and teach that infants, even elect infants, dying in infancy must be regenerated in order to salvation? Mr. Styles declined to answer this question, and appeared so entirely disconcerted and unnerved in the presence of Mr. Campbell and the large audience assembled, that he could not be induced to enter upon any discussion whatever. As he had previously attracted a good deal of attention and stood high as a man of abilities, his discomfiture under the circumstances was of no small detriment to the cause of Presbyterianism in Kentucky. After leaving Versailles, Mr. Campbell, on his return, spoke at Lexington and Georgetown, and taking a boat at Cincinnati along with Walter Scott and P. B. Pendleton of Virginia, arrived safely at Bethany on the 24th of October. [438]


[MAC2 422-438]

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Memoirs of Alexander Campbell, Volume II. (1869)

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