The story begins with the first English settlments in the New World. The 1559 Prayer Book was used on American soil in the Roanoke colony which was later deserted The arrival of Anglicanism is usually dated at the foundation of the Jamestown colony in 1607. Important things in England were happening contemporaneously with the establishment of Anglicanism in the American colonies. First, the 1604 Book of Common Prayer had just been published a few years before the arrival of English colonists. Secondly, the King James Bible or Authorized Version was in the works at this time. Third, the internal strife in the Church of England were polarizing and simmering for a rapid boil later in the 17th century.
The majority of English colonists were not members of the Church of England but Noncomformists or Puritans. However, the Church was established in some of the colonies, Virginia, Maryland, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia, although in Georgia and North Carolina, that status meant next to nothing for Anglicanism nearly died out there. The areas where the Church was established tended to be low church while in areas where Anglican presence was small tended to be high church, especially in the Puritan-dominated New England.
Throughout the colonial period, the Protestant Episcopal Church had the unique problem of being a bishopless episcopal Church. There had been attempts throughout the colonial period to secure an American episcopate from various groups within the Church and the SPG. However, there was no bishop until Seabury later on. Also, curiously, in Virginia and South Carolina, where the Protestant Episcopal Church was strongest, the desire for bishops was weakest. Vestries had long been the form of government in those areas of the Episcopal Church, often controlled by wealthy gentry and not representative of the common people. These vestries did not want a bishop meddling in their affairs. Bishops were also regarded as agents of the Crown, both by colonists and the English. Likewise, most Noncomformists did not want there to be an American episcopate because it brought up images of William Laud in their minds, "Let all mankind know that we came into the wilderness because we would worship God without that Episcopacy, that Common Prayer, and those unwarrantable ceremonies with which the land of our forefathers' sepulchres has been defiled" (Addison, 56). Likewise, to the English mind, colonial America was too "rough" for bishops of the Church of England. Addison notes the 18th century notion of a bishop to Englishmen, "Though a bishop was regarded as a successor of the Apostles, be was not supposed to be an apostle. He was an official of State with a large income drived from endowments, with a palace, a coach, and a corps of servants. He was expected to live in style, and this expectation was seldom disappointed. His functions and status were appropriate to an Established Church in an ancient and settled social order. The last thing a bishop was thought to be, or would have wanted to be, was a missionary pioneer" (55).
When the American Revolution was completed and the British defeated, the colonial Church was in shambles and near to extinction. The Church in Virginia, once the stronghold of Anglicanism in America, was in rapid decline and near extinction. The future of the Episcopal Church looked bleak and hopeless and, in fact, many non-Episcopal Americans hoped it would die out, for it was seen as a remnant of British control. At this point, it is important to realize the significance of what had happened in America. The American Church now stood as an independent episcopal Church, severed from its source of life, the Church of England. However, it is important to remember that the American Church was not the first episcopal Church to be independent of the English Church. The Nonjurors had refused to swear an oath of allegiance to William III in 1688 and were subsequently removed from their sees. However, this group of Nonjuring bishops, clergy, and laity had continued to operate in England and Scotland. The Nonjuring church continued through the succession of bishops by the hands of the Nonjurors and was still operating at the time of the departure of Samuel Seabury in 1783. Seabury had departed from Connecticut in order to seek consecration by English bishops. However, Parliament would not authorize any consecration of a bishop who would not swear allegiance to the Crown. Seabury, seeing that he would not be consecrated in England, head to Scotland to seek consecration from Scottish bishops. The Scottish bishops who were not tied to the Crown, were more than willing to consecrate Seabury as bishop. On November 14, 1784, Seabury was consecrated by the Bishop of Aberdeen, the Bishop Coadjutor of Aberdeen, and the Bishop of Rose and Moray. Seabury returned to Connecticut in 1785 and presided over the diocesan convention as bishop, ordaining four men to the diaconate.
Meanwhile, while Seabury was abroad seeking consecration, William White was organizing the structure of the national church. The first convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church was to be assembled on September 27, 1785. Although the response to the convention was not enthusiastic, White was busy working to organize the national church. White was seeking consecration of several bishops for the American Church from English bishops while Seabury was in Scotland being consecrated by Scottish bishops. White and others began work on revision to the Prayer Book to be used in the new American Church. With the Proposed Book, as it was later called, and a list of candidates to be bishops of New York, Pennslyvania, and Virginia, Samuel Provoost, William White, and David Griffith, however, because of lack of enthusiasm for an episcopate in Virginia, Griffith was never consecrated. The Proposed Book was a radical document for its time for it shows markable influence from the 1689 Liturgy of Comprehension because White was a Low Churchman, in the latitudinarian sense. White was in communication with Parliament and the English bishops seeking consecration. The English bishops, however, were displeased with several alterations in the Proposed Book, such as the omission of the Nicene and Athanasian Creed, changes to the Baptismal office, and the Articles of Religion. Given that the Book was unpopular in America, it was easy to secure further revision and subsequently White and Provoost were consecrated on November 2, 1786.
There were now three Protestant bishops in America but there was no union in the Protestant Episcopal Church. The Church in New England was thoroughly High Church and had organized itself along the lines of the Nonjuring Church in Scotland. The laity did not have much power in terms of the running of the Church and the clergy were mostly ex-Tories and their bishop ordained by Jacobite Nonjurors. The New England clergy did not like the Proposed Book at all and furthermore, Seabury had promised Scottish bishops that he would use their prayer of consecration instead of the English and try to persuade the Church in America to do the same. Meanwhile, dioceses in middle and southern colonies tended to be low church (latitudinarian) and generally gave much more power to laymen in the form of vestries. It seemed that there would be no national Episcopal Church in America but a series of regional churches. That was until the General Convention of 1789.
General Convention began on July 28, 1789, in Philadelphia and consisted of two sessions whereby the unity of the Church was established and a Prayer Book authorized for use in the Protestant Episcopal Church. White presided over the meeting and contributed to the unity of the Church vastly. First, the status of Bishop Seabury was included in the constitution and granted him equal authority with bishops consecrated in England. Secondly, the General Convention was split into two houses, the House of Deputies. This sought to alleviate the differences in government between New England and other dioceses. Once the support of Seabury and the New Englanders had been gained, constitutions and canons were passed and work on the Prayer Book commenced.
The work on the Prayer Book sought to start from scratch and not use the Proposed Book as a model. The preface to the book maintains that, 'This Church is far from intending to depart from the Church of England in any essential point of doctrine, discipline, or worship; or further than local circumstances require." Although, it seems that the revisers had some changes in mind when they went in to revising the liturgy. There were, of course, political changes to reflect the new nation, there were grammatical changes to update the language, and some other curious revisions. Addison lists the changes:
(1) The omission from the Calendar of sixty-nine saints' days and other days... persons subsequent to New Testament times or events not based on New Testament evidence. (2) The omission of the so-called "Ornaments Rubric..." (3) In Morning Prayer the omission after the Creed of a second Lord's Prayer and of four sets of versicles and responses, and the addition of the Prayer for All Conditions of Men and A General Thanksgiving... (4) In Evening Prayer, the unfortunate omission of the Magnificat and the Nunc Dimittis, which were restored in 1892... (5) The omission of the Athanasian Creed... (6) In the Catechism the sentence, “the Body and Blood of Christ… are verily and indeed taken and received by the faithful in the Lord’s Supper,” is amended to read “spiritually taken and received.” (7) The Solemnization of Matrimony is improved by the omission of various references to carnal lusts, procreation, and fornication, and is shortened by dropping a psalm, four prayers, and a long exhortation. (8) A change distinctly doctrinal in character is to be found in the Office for the Visitation of the Sick, where the revisers leave out the rubric directing that the sick person be urged to confess, and omit the subsequent Absolution… (9) The omission of the Office entitled, “A Commination, or denouncing of God’s anger and judgments against sinners…” (10) The addition of [several] offices.’ (71)
Interestingly, the Church did not adopt the Articles of Religion until 1801 and never required subscription to them.
The years from 1607-1811 are generally regarded by historians as one unit of history for the Episcopal Church for in this period the colonial church lived and died. By 1811, the spirit of the colonial church was largely gone and Anglicanism’s future looked bleak. However, around this time the Church experienced a revival which resulted in growth and expansion. This post is not a history of the Protestant Episcopal Church but I wanted to provide you with a brief overview of the beginning of the Church and so you could see the influences which guide it from that point on.
Our story here is concerned with the High Church tradition in the Protestant Episcopal Church, which leads us to one influential bishop. We have already discussed Samuel Seabury, one of the two high church bishops, the other being John Henry Hobart. As Seabury’s influence was waning (because of age, he died in 1796), Hobart was just beginning his career. Born in Philadelphia in 1775, Hobart initially taught at Princeton College but was later ordained deacon by Bishop White in 1798. He was later ordained priest and became rector at Holy Trinity in New York in 1803. He was an ardent supporter of educational societies and was involved in a number of societies in New York. On May 29, 1811, Hobart was consecrated as Bishop of New York, succeeding Bishop Provoost and Bishop Moore, who had been of saintly character but lacked administrative abilities to lead a diocese. However, Bishop Hobart was exactly the kind of man to be bishop of New York. He travelled over 2,000 miles to different parishes in the diocese and confirmed over 1,000 people. During his time as bishop, the diocese of New York doubled in number of clergy and the number of missionaries expanded too. He is most known for his commitment to theological education and his support of the General Seminary in New York City. He was opposed to the American Bible Society (like the Hackney Divines were opposed to the British and Foreign Bible Society) and likewise disliked the non-liturgical churches’ promotion of ‘enthusiasm” (again, similar to Hackney Divines). Bishop Hobart was a friend of the Hackney Divines, although they disagreed with him on his views of establishmentism.
The High Church tradition as exhibited by Hobart reflected an indigenous, Anglican spiritual tradition based on the Anglican formularies and older High Church tradition as practiced by Laud and the Caroline Divines. A High Churchman, “is distinguished by the great stress which he lays on the sacraments, ordinances, and ministrations of the Church” (Hobart), Addison adds this explanation of the High Church tradition, “The High Churchman expresses his loyalty to the Anglican Communion by stressing the Catholic element in it… [by magnifying] the importance of those characteristics which the Church possesses in common with other Catholic Churches – for example, episcopacy conceived as of apostolic descent; a strong emphasis upon the Sacrament of the Eucharist; a relatively elaborate ritual; and in general a tendency to express the corporate side of Christianity and the objective aspect of religion” (89). Addison adds some observations about both parties (as there was no real “broad church” then) reiterating that both believed in the verbal infallibility of the Bible and generally held to Protestant theology, he adds, “The High Churchman was not then greatly concerned with ritual, and he was vigorously anti-Roman” (90). Holmes adds, “A High Churchman in the tradition of Lancelot Andrewes [and] William Laud … Hobart believed the episcopate, the priesthood, the sacraments, and the visible church to be the appointed channels for God’s grace” (61, 62). However, all historians are clear, the High Churchmen of this period were not ritualists and were rigorously anti-Roman. However, they, “emphasized the distinctiveness and superiority of the Episcopal Church – “the church” – over all other denominations” (Holmes, 62), Holmes also adds that High Churchmen of this variety were often called, “Hobartian churchmen,” “old-fashioned high churchmen,” and “evangelical high churchmen.”
The High Church Tradition of Hobart is unique in, “rejecting equally Papal corruptions and Protestant errors, he adheres in all essential points to the faith, ministry, and worship, which distinguished the apostolic and primitive Church, and particularly to the constitution of the Christian ministry under its three orders of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons.” He believes the liturgy of the Church to be reformed and catholic and reflective of apostolic tradition and witness. Hobart lists several ways in which the High Churchman agrees with Protestants and against Romans:
“It is this doctrine of justification and salvation only through the free grace of God in Jesus Christ, his divine Lord and Redeemer, which the CHURCHMAN daily and constantly cherishes as the only solace of his wounded conscience, and the only ground on which he can hope for acceptance at the tribunal of his Almighty Judge, and for advancement to the celestial glories which infinitely transcend the merit of his best works.
“He rejects, with horror, the idea of bowing, with the Romanist, to created intercessors, to saints and images; and of invoking, in epithets of celestial dignity and sovereignty, the [11/12] intercession of the virgin mother of the Saviour, in derogation of the sole and all-sufficient mediation of her divine and blessed Son”
However, Hobart states some grievances with the language of “imputed righteousness,” which he believes can lead to antimonianism, if misunderstood,
“But in respect to the mode by which the merits of Christ are applied to the justification and salvation of the believer, the Churchman differs from some of his Protestant brethren, rejecting the phraseology of the imputed righteousness of Christ, not because always exceptionable in meaning, but always liable to a dangerous application. For if, as in the language of some Protestants, the righteousness of Christ be imputed to believers, so that they are clothed with it, and that God views and accepts them only as invested with it, then the Antinomian doctrine is an unavoidable inference, that God can see no sin in believers; and that, therefore, they need not obey the moral law. This dangerous inference the Churchman avoids when he expresses the sole efficacy of the merits and grace of Christ to his salvation in the unexceptionable language, that the imperfect obedience of the believer, performed in the exercise of faith, and through the influences of divine grace, are accepted only on account of the merits and intercession of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; or, that "we are accounted righteous before God only for the merits of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ."
He is also distinguished, “by the great stress which he lays on the sacraments, and ordinances, and ministrations of the Church,” however, “He is very far, indeed, from the impiety and absurdity of supposing, with the Romanists, that the sacraments, and ordinances, and ministrations of the Church are available to salvation, opere operato, on account merely of the performance of them, in virtue of the work itself, and the intention of the administrator,” yet,
“But still viewing the Church as the divinely constituted body of Christ, to which he applies the merits of his blood, and the efficacy of his grace, and considering the sacraments, in the language of his Church, as "a means whereby he receives, and as a pledge to assure him of," all those spiritual blessings which Christ's merits purchased, and his grace confers; and, considering further, that Christ set over this Church ministers to celebrate its sacraments and ordinances, he would think that he hazarded his salvation if he refused or neglected to receive these means and pledges of the divine favour. Sincere repentance and lively faith producing obedience to the divine commands, qualify the believer for acceptance through the merits of his Redeemer. But, surely, it would be difficult for him to establish his claim to salvation on Gospel principles, while he rejects or neglects those sacraments, ordinances, and ministrations which are "a means whereby he receives the same, and a pledge to assure him thereof."
High Churchmen disagree with the principle of ex opera operato, yet the sacraments are still means of grace for those who receive in faith. High Churchmen believe of baptism, “In accordance with this sentiment, and with Scripture and the faith of the primitive Church, the CHURCHMAN considers baptism as the sacramental commencement of the spiritual life, and the entrance into that fold of the Redeemer, the mystical body of Christ, in which he enjoys a title to the blessings of salvation,” yet he notes on the meaning of baptismal regeneration,
“When the Churchman, in the language of Scripture, of primitive antiquity, and of the articles and liturgy of his Church, calls baptism regeneration, he does not employ the term in its [15/16] popular signification among many Protestants, to denote the divine influences upon the soul in its sanctification and renovation, in abolishing the body of sin, and raising up the graces and virtues of the new man. The term regeneration is used by him in its original, and appropriate, and technical acceptation, to denote the translation of the baptized person from that state in which, as destitute of any covenanted title to salvation, he is styled "the child of wrath," into that state which, as it proffers to him in all cases, the covenated mercy and grace of God, and in the exercise of repentance and faith actually conveys to him these blessings, is styled a "state of salvation." [* Catechism of the Church.] It must be obvious, that the sacramental commencement of the spiritual life in the regeneration of baptism, and the subsequent sanctification of the principles, the powers, and affections of the new man by the renewing of the Holy Ghost, are distinct acts and operations; the former leading to the latter, which, without it, is wholly inefficatious to salvation, on the contrary, increases the condemnation of the despiser of the gifts and calling of God.
And, therefore, the CHURCHMAN insists on the necessity of that spiritual change denoted in Scripture by the terms sanctification, renewing of the mind, renewing of the Holy Ghost.”
The High Churchman wholeheartedly rejects the Roman doctrine of transubstantiation, yet he affirms of the Holy Communion,
“On this authority our Church directs the Priest, in her Communion office, to bless the bread and wine, to be symbols of the body, and blood of Christ, and thus to make a solemn oblation of them to the Father, beseeching him that they who worthily receive them may be partakers of his body and blood… The Churchman then maintains the oblation in the Eucharist of the bread and wine as symbols and memorials of the body and blood of Christ. He will not be tenacious of the term sacrificeas applicable to the offering of the consecrated elements. For in the appropriate application of the term it doubtless denoted those offerings only in which there was shedding of blood. Neither the liturgy of his Church, nor the primitive liturgies, apply this term to the bread and wine of the Eucharist. All due significance is given to this most sacred ordinance when there is a solemn oblation made by God's authorized minister of the consecrated bread and wine, as symbols and memorials of the body and blood of Christ; assuring to those who worthily receive them all the blessings of his meritorious cross and passion.”
I will include a lengthy quote from Bishop Seabury describing High Church theology of the Eucharist based on the Scottish Communion Office,
“For the command, "This do in remembrance of Me," relates not barely to eating bread & drinking wine in remembrance of Christ, as the Socinians teach, and some ill-informed Christians suppose, but to the whole transaction. By it the Apostles were enjoined, when they administered the Holy Communion, to do as Christ then did--take bread and break it, and offer it up to God, by thanksgiving and prayer, consecrating it to be His mystical Body --the memorial or representative of that Body which Christ in the institution willingly offered up and devoted to God, a sacrifice and propitiation for the sin of the world; and which, in consequence of His offering, was soon after slain upon the cross for our redemption--the Body of Christ in virtue and efficacy. They were then to distribute it to the Christians who attended the Holy solemnity, as Christ distributed it to them. Likewise they were to take the cup, and offer it up to God, by prayer, thanksgiving, and blessing, consecrating it to be the sacramental Blood of Christ--the representative, or memorial of His Blood which Christ devoted to God to be shed for sin--the Blood of Christ in virtue and efficacy to all worthy receivers. They were then to give it to all the Christians present to drink of it in remembrance, or for a memorial of Christ. So that all they who received the sacramental Body and Blood--i. e. the bread and wine thus blessed and consecrated by Christ's authorized minister--with true penitence and faith, might, at the same time, receive, in a spiritual and mysterious manner, the life-giving Body and Blood of Christ, i. e. all the benefits of His passion, death, and resurrection… As we are to commemorate and confess Christ before men, and gratefully to acknowledge the wonderful works of love and mercy He has done for us; so we are to make a commemoration or memorial of His precious death and sacrifice before the Almighty Father, and plead before Him the merits of His dearly beloved Son dying for the sin of the world: Not that God will forget, unless we refresh His memory; but because, in so doing, we use the means that Christ has appointed to convey to us the benefits of that sacrifice which He offered for sin. To refuse, or neglect the Holy Ordinance of the Eucharist looks as though we had no grateful sense of Christ's love in dying for us; or that we did not fully trust to His merits for pardon of our sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and eternal life in the kingdom of God… For when God's Priest offers up the elements of bread and wine upon the Holy Altar, they are thereby made God's property; and being blessed and sanctified by prayer and thanksgiving, they become, through the operation of the Holy Ghost, the Body and Blood of Christ in power and effect. They are then returned by the hand of God's minister, and distributed among the Communicants as a feast upon the sacrifice: And all who partake of them with true faith and repentance are fed with God's food, and eat at God's Table; and are thereby assured of His favour and goodness towards them; and consequently must obtain remission of all past sin, otherwise they could not be in favour with God.” (Seabury – “An Earnest Persuasive to Frequent Communion”)”
He affirms the ministry of absolution which Christ has given to his priests, “In the service of the Church the CHURCHMAN recognizes the power of authoritative absolution in the Christian ministry, founded on the declaration of Christ to his apostles, and through them to their successors to the end of the world--"Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained." [* St. John xx. 23.] While he acknowledges this power in the due administration of the sacraments and of ecclesiastical discipline, he considers it as also exercised in the sentence of absolution in the daily worship, by which he maintains God certifies, to those who truly repent and believe, the pardon of their sins.” Yet, he equally condemns the Roman errors associated with penance and confession, “The Churchman only considers a general absolution as an edifying and consolatory part of public service. The Church of Rome makes auricular confession--the private confession to the Priest by every individual of all his sins of thought, word, and deed--an indispensable condition of forgiveness. The Churchman justly deems auricular confession and private absolution, an encroachment on the rights of conscience, an invasion of the prerogative of the Searcher of Hearts, and, with some exceptions, hostile to domestic and social happiness, and licentious and corrupting in its tendency.”
As much as the High Churchman emphasized the importance of adherence to the Prayer Book, he did not insist on ritual innovations beyond what was prescribed in the Prayer Book. Holmes includes a description of Anglican worship during the 18th century, which was remarkably different from today. Essentially, Anglican worship was a “service of the Word,” on most Sundays, consisting of Morning Prayer, Litany, and Ante-Communion. They initially only sang metrical psalms, yet later on, hymns became more standard. “Visual symbols, even the cross, were lacking altogether, and ceremonial minimal. [Eucharistic] vestments were unknown, the use of incense in church unheard of, candles rare, and holy communion three times a year considered sufficient in most parishes” (Holmes, 103).
Up to this point in history, the American Church developed two traits which would later make the Church more receptive to the Oxford Movement. One, the American Church was independent of the State, unlike it was in England. Second, the American Church had a native and indigenous High Church tradition which was active and alive when the Tracts for the Times arrived in America. In the next installment, I will look at how the Oxford Movement and Ritualism changed the Protestant Episcopal Church forever.