Feast of Henry Ustick Onderdonk (December 6)   3 comments

Flag of Pennsylvania

Above:  The Flag of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

Image in the Public Domain

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HENRY USTICK ONDERDONK (MARCH 16, 1789-DECEMBER 6, 1858)

Episcopal Bishop, Liturgist, and Hymn Writer

Causes of ecclesiastical controversies interest me, especially long after the fact.  In England, when the Reverend Isaac Watts (1674-1748), the “Father of English Hymnody,” played his crucial role in the transition from psalmody to hymnody in much of the English-speaking Christian world, he created a controversy which outlived him on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.  During the 1800s and into the 1900s the Oxford Movement divided parishes and dioceses in the Anglican Communion.  In 1868, for example, the addition of the singing of creeds and the prayers at Christ Episcopal Church, Macon, Georgia, prompted protests from Low Churchmen, who considered the changes “Papist.”  In 1869 the rector of the parish resigned from Christ Church to serve the breakaway parish (still inside the Diocese of Georgia at the time) of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Macon, where his changes were popular. That controversy came more than thirty years after Christ Church’s organ, the first in the city, had upset many people.

Christ Church and St. Paul’s Church, Macon, have been parishes of the Diocese of Atlanta since 1907, when the Diocese of Georgia divided for reasons of geography and the excessive workload on the Bishop of Georgia, then based out of Atlanta.

Our saint for today spent many years at the eye of the storm of High Churchmanship versus Low Churchmanship.  Henry Ustick Onderdonk, born at New York New York, on March 16, 1789, studied medicine at Columbia College, Manhattan (B.A., 1895; M.A., 1808), and at the University of Edinburgh, in Scotland (M.D., 1810).  He did not remain in the medical field for long, for theology beckoned.  Onderdonk, ordained an Episcopal deacon in 1815 and a priest the following year, served as a missionary at Canandaigua, New York, before becoming the Rector of St. Anne’s Church, New York, New York, in 1820.  Seven years later he became the Assistant Bishop of Pennsylvania amid much controversy.  The High Church-Low Church controversy divided the Diocese of Pennsylvania, so nobody could have won election without acrimony.  Low Churchmen failed to block Onderdonk’s election, and no Low Church clergymen, including bishops, participated in his consecration service.  Onderdonk became the Bishop of Pennsylvania in 1836.  He served until 1844, when he resigned and the House of Bishops suspended him indefinitely.  The de jure cause of the suspension was Onderdonk’s alcoholism, which had started after a doctor prescribed spirits as treatment for a chronic digestive disorder.  The Bishop of Pennsylvania had reformed his life prior to his resignation and suspension, but partisan pressures led to his suspension.

At the same time his brother, Benjamin Tredwell Onderdonk (1791-1861), the Bishop of New York from 1830 to 1861, was in trouble also.  The Bishop of New York, a High Churchman like his brother, was on trial in 1844 and 1845 due to charges of improper touching of women.  He denied the allegations.  (I do not know if the charges were accurate, so I make no judgment in that matter.  Determining actual guilt or innocence in 2015 in this case might be impossible.)  The majority of the House of Bishops decided that the Bishop of New York was guilty, so it suspended him indefinitely in 1845 and never lifted the suspension.  He retained the title “Bishop of New York” until his death, but Provisional Bishops served there until 1861.  Regardless of whether the Bishop of New York was actually guilty, strong objections to his High Churchmanship influenced the House of Bishops and increased the level of interest in his case.

Henry Ustick Onderdonk was a capable hymn writer and a liturgist.  He helped to prepare the Hymns Suited to the Feasts and Fasts of the Church and Other Occasions (1826), or the Prayer Book Collection, informally, due to the fact that the Church ordered it bound with The Book of Common Prayer (1789).  The Prayer Book Collection, to which Onderdonk contributed nine hymns, marked the transition from psalmody to hymnody in The Episcopal Church.  He also worked on Plain Music for the Book of Common Prayer (1854).  The Hymnal of 1874 superceded that volume and the Prayer Book Collection (1826).  Most of our saint’s hymns fell out of Episcopal Church hymnody after the Hymnal of 1892.  The Hymnal 1916 (1918), The Hymnal 1940 (1943), and The Hymnal 1982 (1985), retained just one of his texts.

One can, however, read his hymns at hymnary.org.  I have added some of his texts to my GATHERED PRAYERS weblog also.

The former Bishop of Pennsylvania, whose suspension the House of Bishops lifted in 1856, died at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on December 6, 1858.

Archive.org offers some of our saint’s publications:

  1. An Inaugural Dissertation on the Stone of the Bladder (1810);
  2. The New-York Medical Magazine, Volume I (1814, with Valentine Mott, M.D.);
  3. A Sermon [on Isa. lxii. 12] Preached at the Opening of the General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States in St. Paul’s Chapel, New York, October 17, 1832 (1832);
  4. The Rule of Faith:  A Charge to the Clergy of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania:  Delivered in Philadelphia, May 22, 1833, at the Opening of the Convention (1833);
  5. Episcopacy Tested by Scripture (1834; 1860 reprint);
  6. Episcopacy Examined and Re-Examined, Comprising the Tract “Episcopacy Tested by Scripture,” and the Controversy Concerning that Publication (1835); and
  7. An Essay on Regeneration (1835).

Our saint had to struggle with addiction, which is a medical condition, not a sin.  (Much of what one does in the maintenance of an addiction is sinful, however.)  Brain scans, which were not available in the 1800s, prove that the brains of addicts and non-addicts differ chemically.  May people cease to classify diseases as sins, and therefore stop imposing more burdens on those who need grace and help, not guilt and recrimination.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 3, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILL CAMPBELL, AGENT OF RECONCILIATION

THE FEAST OF SAINT LIPHARDUS OF ORLEANS AND URBICIUS OF MEUNG, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOTS

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF UGANDA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MORAND OF CLUNY, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK AND MISSIONARY

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Holy God, whose majesty surpasses all human definitions and capacity to grasp,

thank you for those (especially Henry Ustick Onderdonk)

who have nurtured and encouraged the reverent worship of you.

May their work inspire us to worship you in knowledge, truth, and beauty.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

1 Chronicles 25:1-8

Psalm 145

Revelation 15:1-4

John 4:19-26

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 27, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES INTERCISUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR

THE FEAST OF HENRY SLOANE COFFIN, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN THEOLOGIAN

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