CARMAN, ALBERT, Methodist minister, educator, and administrator; b. 27 June 1833 in Matilda (Iroquois), Upper Canada, son of Philip Carman and Emeline (Emmeline) Shaver; m. 19 July 1860 Mary Jane Sisk, and they had three sons and one daughter; d. 3 Nov. 1917 in Toronto.
Albert Carman was a quintessential Upper Canadian. His father, a self-educated tanner and farmer, was a grandson of an officer in the King’s Royal Regiment of New York, and his mother was a granddaughter of another “Royal Yorker.” The Carmans and Shavers were among the loyalist families who settled on crown grants in Matilda Township in 1784, and the Carmans were also among the earliest converts to Methodism in the colony. Carman never lost touch with his rural and loyalist roots and his family’s commitment to Methodism. He attended the first elementary school in the township and the grammar school in Matilda. In 1851 he entered Victoria College in Cobourg.
The religious climate at Victoria was strongly evangelical, and Carman was converted in the winter of 1854 at the height of a period of intense preaching and spiritual introspection. He wrote to his father immediately, telling him what “the Good Lord” had done and asking for advice. A member of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Canada, established in 1834 by those who opposed the union of the Upper Canadian Methodist Episcopal conference with the British Wesleyans, Philip Carman encouraged his son to join that church, which Albert did. Although concerned at first about the intensity of his conversion, he soon became convinced that God would enable him to overcome all temptations. Combining assurance and humility, in 1858 he executed on “bended knees” a written covenant with God, promising to give one-tenth of his net income (he later amended this to gross income) for charitable purposes and symbolically to replace his gold watch with a cheaper one.
Carman graduated from Victoria in 1855 and became principal of his old grammar school in Matilda. In 1857, now a candidate for the Methodist Episcopal ministry, he was appointed to the teaching staff at the newly opened Belleville Seminary, a preparatory school for young Methodist Episcopals, both men (particularly potential ministers) and women, which offered a three-year course in classics, mathematics, science, and philosophy. One year later, he replaced Joshua H. Johnson as principal of the school. When it was transformed into Albert College in 1866 Carman assumed the position of president, which he retained until 1875. He had achieved full ministerial status in 1864 without ever having served on a circuit.
From its beginning, the Belleville Seminary was in difficult circumstances. Many in the Methodist Episcopal community were suspicious of learning and of an educated ministry. Moreover, the denomination was divided over whether the school should seek provincial grants or follow the church’s voluntarist policy. Under Carman’s forceful direction, and with the backing of his bishop, James Richardson*, and of the superintendent of education for Upper Canada, Egerton Ryerson*, it prospered modestly. Its survival owed much to Carman’s administrative and teaching skills and to his effective advocacy of its interests. His contribution was shaped and informed by the powerful blend of evangelical spirituality, ambition, self-confidence, patriotism, and intellectual and moral rigidity that constituted the core of his personality and convictions. He managed the meagre resources of the school prudently and sought energetically to strengthen its position in his church. Within the college, secular knowledge and the knowledge of God were imparted in an evangelical, morally conformist, and intellectually conservative context.
As principal, Carman was often discouraged but remained convinced of the need for the seminary to educate Methodist Episcopal youth and to provide trained leadership for the church. Doubtless at his urging, it became affiliated with the University of Toronto in 1861 and in 1866, as Albert College, secured a charter empowering it to grant degrees in arts. Although women were not admitted to degree programs, they were offered a diploma course; in 1868 Alexandra College was created for women students, who were permitted also to attend undergraduate classes. In 1870, moreover, Carman initiated the establishment of a faculty of divinity, and organized as well faculties of arts, engineering, law, and music.
Carman’s work at the college and his evangelical preaching and writing had a strong impact on his brethren. Between 1868 and 1874 he defended the Methodist Episcopal position in the negotiations for the union of Methodist churches, but its entry into the union foundered on its insistence on an episcopate and its opposition to lay representation in governing bodies. In 1874 Carman was elected as the colleague and eventual successor of James Richardson. Ordained bishop at Napanee on 4 September, he was sole head after Richardson died in March 1875.
The Methodist Episcopal Church in Canada was made up of three conferences in Ontario, where it constituted the second largest Methodist denomination. Its members were predominantly rural and were located largely in the old townships along the St Lawrence and the Bay of Quinte and in the Niagara peninsula. They were strongly evangelical and prided themselves on their continuing commitment to the episcopal polity inherited from the church in the United States and to the separation of church and state. Many hoped to re-establish an institutional link with the American church, and there was considerable hostility towards the larger Methodist Church of Canada, established in 1874. Carman set out to overcome the administrative disarray of the church by asserting his authority vigorously, by creating central agencies to manage matters such as missions, and by providing skilful leadership for the conferences. His powerful addresses, published in the church’s Canada Christian Advocate (Hamilton, Ont.), and his visits to congregations encouraged his brethren to believe that Episcopal Methodism had a significant role to play in the religious life of the province.
Carman knew that his church was essentially a regional denomination with a rural base, and that to survive and become a powerful factor in Canadian society it had to form congregations in cities and expand its base, especially by penetrating Manitoba and the northwest. A church extension fund was set up in 1874 for work in central Canada but very little was contributed. Churches were constructed, in Kingston, for example, but none were built in Toronto or Montreal, and the presence of the church hardly increased in urban Ontario and Quebec. Similarly, missionaries were sent to Manitoba in 1876 and missions were begun in seven centres, but in 1883 members numbered only 350. That effort had foundered on the rocks of a highly mobile population in which Episcopals were a minority, of fierce competition with other churches, and of the high cost of missions in a volatile economic and social setting.
By 1881 Carman was aware that the mood of his brethren was no longer optimistic and aggressive. Some ministers were seeking refuge in the church in the United States. Many, perhaps the majority, of the clergy and laity were becoming more receptive to the prospect of a union with the Methodist Church of Canada and with the smaller Bible Christian and Primitive Methodist churches. The Ecumenical Methodist Conference in 1881 heightened awareness of the spiritual ties between the various Methodist bodies, and informal meetings of representatives from the two main churches were held in Morrisburg that winter. The bishop perceived his task to be devising a strategy that would lead to union on terms likely to be acceptable to the majority in his church or, if the negotiations failed, that would enable it to continue credibly on its own. The General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church had approved lay representation in 1878, and so the crucial point of contention was the episcopacy. Fortunately, powerful figures in the larger Methodist Church of Canada were dissatisfied with its system of governance and were advocating the assignment of executive authority to a general superintendent. Thus, in practice, Carman’s principal concern was to reconcile that notion with the one of episcopacy which his ministerial brethren shared.
In 1882 the Methodist Church of Canada accepted in principle the notion of a strong general superintendency. This decision enabled Carman to begin the process of equating episcopacy with the proposed general superintendency. As a result of his vigorous advocacy, the Basis of Union, adopted by the representatives of the various churches in December 1882, included provision for two general superintendents. Moreover, although they were to be elected, it was understood that Carman would be one of the first two chosen. When the Methodist Episcopal General Conference met in special session in Napanee in January 1883, Carman stressed that “if there is a union it must . . . commend itself to scripture, to intelligent conviction and the impartial judgment of good men. . . . But repudiating rabble on the one hand and unscriptural dogma [apostolic succession] on the other[,] we do tenaciously hold to a ministerial succession in the Church of God.” Since in the Methodist Episcopal Church it was the ministers, or presbyters, who gave the bishop powers of ordination and supervision, it was lawful for the presbytery, or the General Conference, to abolish or alter the episcopacy. Carman indicated that the general superintendency would be a scriptural episcopacy, adapted to the needs of an itinerant ministry, effective in symbolizing and maintaining the unity of the church, and resistant to centralization or sectionalism. He concluded: “Our great principles of doctrine, government and action can be harmonized into one Church – if they cannot, either our principles are false and wrong, or God never intended us to come together.”
Oppressed by the church’s debt brought on by church extension, missions, and educational institutions, and concerned about unmet needs, the General Conference was stirred by Carman’s advocacy of a new departure. It approved the Basis of Union and submitted it to the annual conferences and quarterly meetings. Carman observed “a wonderful sensitiveness in the minds of many” about union in the months leading up to the meeting of delegates from the uniting churches in September 1883. This provisional General Conference elected Samuel Dwight Rice*, the president of the General Conference of the Methodist Church of Canada, and Carman as general superintendents of the new church. When Rice died in December 1884, he was replaced by John Æthuruld Williams*, who in turn died in December 1889. Subsequently, Carman ruled alone, a task that he probably found congenial, if onerous. In 1910 the General Conference elected Samuel Dwight Chown* as a general superintendent to share authority with the aged and combative Carman. They worked together uneasily until Carman retired in 1914. Thus, to the extent that the general superintendent could give leadership and direction to the Methodist community, Carman shaped the development of Canadian Methodism during three crucial decades.
The Methodist Church of Canada, inaugurated formally on 1 June 1884, was the largest Protestant denomination in Canada. A religious community whose activities extended from Newfoundland to Japan, its members believed that “‘the world for Christ’ must be our motto, and to win it for Him our settled aim,” and that “God’s remedy for the woes and wants of men” was the continued promulgation of the evangelical message at the core of the Methodist tradition. But in the years of Carman’s ascendancy the context within which that message was proclaimed as well as its content changed greatly. On the one hand, Canadian Methodists were confronted with the demands of a Canadian society that was becoming not only more urban and industrial but also characterized by increasing ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity. On the other hand, the foundations of Christian belief and doctrine were being questioned by historical and scientific research. As a result, Methodist preaching and practice underwent a subtle process of adaptation and adjustment – a development in which Carman played an influential but cautious part.
Legislative authority in the church was vested in a quadrennial General Conference, and administrative and disciplinary functions were assigned to regional annual conferences, with laity and ministers having equal representation at both levels. The general superintendents, like their predecessors in the Episcopal church, did not belong to a separate order and were elected by the General Conference. As general superintendent, Carman was assisted by a standing special committee nominated by him and appointed by the conference. He presided over sessions of the General Conference and chaired its standing committees. He was expected to preside over as many sessions of the annual conferences as possible and to devote particular attention to the central institutions and concerns of the church. He also chaired a court of appeal, made up of six clerical and six lay persons who considered disputes over the application of the rules and procedures, and the board of regents of Victoria University, the church’s central educational institution, which from 1884 incorporated Albert College. Despite the size and complexity of the Methodist organization, the general superintendent had great potential authority and power. Carman’s performance was characterized by thoughtful preparation and presentation of his views and policies, particularly in his addresses to the nine sessions of the General Conference over which he presided, alone or jointly, and he became highly respected for his skill in managing difficult debates. He used the church’s journals extensively to promote his understanding of the religious and social beliefs and concerns of Canadian Methodism and his vision of its destiny.
The strengthening of Methodism’s evangelical spirit, the implementation of administrative changes to enable the church to fulfil its responsibilities more efficiently, the promotion of moral reform, the preservation of Canada as a predominantly Protestant and English-speaking nation, and the defence of the authority of the Bible constituted the core of his preaching and practice. At the General Conference in 1890 he stressed that the “great and enduring verities” are “the purpose and spirit, the interests and enterprises, the forces and conquests of the spiritual, universal, and eternal kingdom of our Lord Christ.” Methodists needed “entire consecration to God.” Carman sounded this evangelical note regularly, and accompanied it with an insistence that “Methodism cannot fulfil its mission without continuous and abundant revival.” Failing that, it would cease to be “a true branch of the living vine,” the universal church, composed of those inspired and guided by the “ever-living Christ.”
The elaborate central administrative structure the Methodist Church started with in 1884 would become more complex and bureaucratic during Carman’s tenure. His constant concern was whether the church’s human and material resources were being used efficiently. Thus, he warned in 1890 against “a profusion of committees” and argued that the representative character of the General Conference was “the surest bulwark against all mere officialism, all dangerous centralization, all hierarchy.” He cautioned the church never to lose sight of the “essential equality of the ministry” in “spiritual matters” and to ensure the “full employment of the laity in the temporalities and polities of the household of faith.” Moreover, he urged the strengthening of the general superintendency so that it would be “veritable and vigorous.” Nevertheless, at the 1910 General Conference, in a review of changes since 1884, Carman noted that “the General Superintendent amounts to little but a Court or Board chairman, or a Committee hack.” He argued that a stronger general superintendency would enable the church to concentrate on evangelism and exercise its influence fully in interdenominational and other national matters. His plea was answered by the election of Chown. That the intricate system which the latter took over in 1914 functioned effectively owed much to the administrative skill and indefatigable energy that Carman had displayed as an itinerant quasi-bishop and as presiding officer in boards, committees, and the General Conference.
During Carman’s period in office the church became identified with movements calling, in the words of historian William H. Magney, for the application of “Christian truths to the regeneration of society and the reformation of its institutions on every level.” But the espousal of moral and social reform obscured serious differences among Methodists over the foundations of Christian truth and the means for making it effective and relevant in the secular order. The issues deeply concerned Carman and would involve him in bitter controversy. His role in the debates was defined by his fervent evangelicalism. He believed in sin and the consequent need for individual regeneration, and he considered that the sequel to regeneration must be the achievement of holiness “by entire consecration and all-conquering faith.” He was convinced that a key element in the defence of Christianity was “the doctrine of the Divine Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures.” Believing as he did, in 1898 he stated that it would be “an unpardonable blunder” to allow a theological student with “loose ideas” on the Scriptures to graduate. As chairman of Victoria’s board of regents, he took part in an attack on Professor George Coulson Workman*, who had argued that the Old Testament statements about the Messiah did not foreshadow the historical Christ. Despite the objection of Victoria’s chancellor, Nathanael Burwash, the board decided that Workman should be confined to teaching in the faculty of arts, a decision which precipitated Workman’s resignation.
Carman’s last battle in defence of biblical orthodoxy began in 1909 with a public attack on George Jackson, professor-elect of English Bible at Victoria, whose initial appointments to the Sherbourne Street Methodist Church in Toronto and to Victoria Carman had approved. Jackson’s assertions that the Bible embodies spiritual truth and is not a historical or scientific work elicited a blunt rejoinder from Carman. For him science was “well arranged knowledge gained . . . in the use of the proper ways, means and instruments”; “history” was “a statement of facts, acts and actors, fully attested . . . and duly recorded.” Pressed on the one hand by conservatives who saw Jackson as threatening the peace of the church, and on the other hand by prominent laymen who asserted that Jackson had raised the level of preaching in Canadian Methodism, Carman chose to renew his attack. Clearly, he was concerned that rich Methodists would use their money contrary to the “highest interests” of Methodism and the “trustworthiness of the word of God.” In the end, swayed by arguments that “the thought and convictions of the men of our church” must not be forced “into some cast iron mould” and that barren controversy would inhibit fund-raising for missions, Carman in 1909 accepted a declaration by the Victoria board affirming that “so long as our theological professors maintain their personal vital relation to Christ and Holy Scripture, and adhere to the doctrinal standards of our own church . . . they must be left free to do their own work.” None the less he sought to undermine Victoria’s endorsement of the view that more than one definition of biblical inspiration was compatible with Methodist doctrine. In his address to the General Conference in 1910 he noted the danger posed by wealthy congregations which could bring in ministers from abroad, but as chairman he presided fairly over the defeat of those who fought to censure Jackson and to inhibit freedom of expression in theological colleges.
Carman’s conception of Canada under the government of God was a distinctive amalgam of secular, denominational, and religious elements. He shared and fostered Methodist hostility to “Romish aggression” and to Roman Catholic efforts to maintain separate schools in Manitoba and the territories [see Adélard Langevin]. He believed as well that Canada was and should continue to be a partner in “Christian civilization of the British type.” An “intense patriot,” who asserted that “our country’s history and our political freedom and prosperity were born with the expiring breath of a [James Wolfe*] and [an Isaac Brock*],” Carman strongly supported Canada’s participation in World War I. In common with John Wesley, also a conservative patriot, he had an ambivalent attitude towards the existing social and economic order. Although he presided over the establishment in 1902 of the church’s Board of Temperance, Prohibition, and Moral Reform, he was not committed to the elaboration of the Social Gospel. For him, moral reform meant maintaining the sanctity of the sabbath, eliminating political corruption, and exalting rural values. Above all, the liquor traffic was a great obstacle to the coming of the kingdom. “Against the poverty it breeds . . . the vice, vileness, and wretchedness it produces . . . the open violence, the hidden iniquity and crime it engenders, we must stand up like men . . . and cry unto the God of heaven for strength and victory.” He was determined that political loyalties should not divert Methodist electors from their duty to support prohibition, and thus was prepared, if necessary, to ignore the other concerns of the political parties. For Carman, indeed, every institution was open to attack by the Methodist battalions, whose own spiritual vision could narrow and darken and who had to be reminded constantly of the meaning of holiness.
If the moral reform of Canadian society was Carman’s main goal, the potentially corrosive influence of wealth was a principal concern. For him, as for Wesley and the Apostle Paul, “the relation of increasing wealth in a church to the purity of its doctrine, the spirituality and fidelity of its membership and the power of its evangelism . . . is . . . more vital . . . than ordinarily appears at first sight.” Ministers were warned that “the money power is a tremendous power . . . and . . . it may be misdirected.” Carman endeavoured to contain the pressure of wealthy Methodists – people like Alfred Ernest Ames*, Harris Henry Fudger, Joseph Wesley Flavelle*, Chester Daniel Massey, and Newton Wesley Rowell* at the Sherbourne Street and Metropolitan churches in Toronto – who sought to dominate the central direction of his church, but equally he had no sympathy for the proponents of the “lower socialism,” whose reasoning he considered as feeble and ill founded as that of the higher critics.
Although he was re-elected in 1910 for an eight-year term, Carman asked the 1914 General Conference to let him retire. He was appointed general superintendent emeritus at full salary. Subsequently, he was injured in an accident from which he never recovered fully. He died in Toronto on 3 Nov. 1917. The pallbearers at his funeral included Premier William Howard Hearst*. The portraits of Carman presented after his death were tinged with respect and admiration but little affection. The secretary of the General Conference, Thomas Albert Moore*, stressed that Carman had stood for “the integrity and veracity of the Book, and was no speculator or enterpriser of the truth” and that he had sought to build “a national life, wherein sin would not find easy development.”
Well educated and well read by the standards of his generation, Carman none the less clung vigorously to the traditional view that the Scriptures constituted the only valid record of the nature and purpose of God in history. For him, however, the world was not moving toward an apocalyptic end: the religious experience of the Apostles, the Wesleys, and all those sharing the evangelical tradition demonstrated that God is continuously active, offering humanity the opportunity to escape alienation and the power to live charitably with each other. He continued the old battle cry of revival as the means of proclaiming the message to individuals, and clearly did not agree that social salvation precedes individual salvation. Nevertheless, he committed his church to a ruthless program of moral reform, which presupposed the legitimacy of an English-speaking, Protestant, conservative, ascetic Canada in which the power of the Roman Catholic hierarchy and the makers and vendors of alcohol would be restrained or destroyed.
Dedicated, vigorous, and tenacious in thought and action, Carman obstructed but did not prevent the reshaping of Canadian Methodist theology in response to new currents in biblical scholarship and philosophy. His rearguard action, one that probably reflected the majority opinion in his church, combined with his tacit support of diverse attempts at innovation, may in fact have facilitated acceptance of new ways of defining the evangelical tradition. His administrative skills were a major factor in enabling his church to fulfil its changing and increasingly complex role. His aggressive leadership both within the church and outside it in temperance, sabbath observance, and other organizations gave substance to the Methodists’ image as uncompromising adversaries of routine wickedness such as dancing, card-playing, and gambling, as well as of that great evil, alcohol. Yet, within the limits of his office and authority, Carman endeavoured to make Canadian Methodism a vibrant embodiment of the work of the Holy Spirit where charity in the fullest sense would be understood and practised. Ironically, his authoritarian, dogmatic style obscured his goal, and his theology, based on a traditional view of the Bible and the “facts” of religious experience, had become obsolete in his own lifetime.
Published addresses by Albert Carman include “Holiness our hope,” Canadian Methodist Magazine (Toronto and Halifax), 20 (July-December 1884): 82–85, and “The church of God and the education of the people . . . ,” Acta Victoriana (Toronto), 22 (1898–99): 7–10.
AO, RG 80–27–2, 18: 30. UCC-C, Biog. file; Fonds 3022. Victoria Univ. Arch. (Toronto), Fonds 2000/1/1–2 (Victoria Univ., board of regents, records), minutes, 1891–92, 1909. Canada Christian Advocate (Hamilton, Ont.), 1868–84. Christian Guardian (Toronto), 1855–1917. Globe, 26 Feb.–12 March 1909. G. A. Boyle, “Higher criticism and the struggle for academic freedom in Canadian Methodism” (th.d. thesis, Victoria Univ., 1965). W. H. Brooks, “Carman and his notion of episcopacy,” Canadian Methodist Hist. Soc., Papers ([Toronto]), 2 ([1977–80]): 1–23. Albert Burnside, “The contribution of the Reverend Albert Carman to Albert College, Belleville, and to the Methodist Episcopal Church in Canada, 1857–1884” (m.th. thesis, Trinity College, Toronto, 1962). J. W. Caldwell, “The unification of Methodism in Canada, 1865–1884,” UCC, Committee on Arch., Bull., no.19 (1967). Centennial of Canadian Methodism (Toronto, 1891). J. C. Dent, The Canadian portrait gallery (4v., Toronto, 1880–81). Michael Gauvreau, The evangelical century: college and creed in English Canada from the Great Revival to the Great Depression (Montreal and Kingston, Ont., 1991). W. H. Magney, “The Methodist Church and the national gospel, 1884–1914,” UCC, Committee on Arch., Bull., no.20 (1968). Methodist Church (Canada, Newfoundland, Bermuda), The doctrines and discipline of the Methodist Church (Toronto), 1886; General Conference, Journal of proc. (Toronto), 1883–1914. Methodist Episcopal Church in Canada, Minutes of the annual conferences (Hamilton), 1857–84. Margaret Prang, N. W. Rowell, Ontario nationalist (Toronto and Buffalo, N.Y., 1975). C. B. Sissons, A history of Victoria University (Toronto, 1952). W. E. L. Smith, Albert College, 1857–1957 ([Belleville, Ont., 1957]). C. M. Steinacher, “The homogenization of Methodism: an examination of the convergence of aspects of polity and revivalist practice in Upper Canadian Methodism, 1824–1884” (th.m. thesis, Victoria Univ., 1992).
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Cite This Article
Goldwin S. French, “CARMAN, ALBERT,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 2, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/carman_albert_14E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Goldwin S. French|
|Title of Article:||CARMAN, ALBERT|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1998|
|Year of revision:||1998|
|Access Date:||April 2, 2023|