First, I thought it would be pertinent to post the Preamble to the Constitution of the Protestant Episcopal Church, to see how the Church understands herself.
The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, otherwise known as The Episcopal Church (which name is hereby recognized as also designating the Church), is a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, a Fellowship within the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, of those duly constituted Dioceses, Provinces, and regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer. This Constitution, adopted in General Convention in Philadelphia in October, 1789, as amended in subsequent General Conventions, sets forth the basic Articles for the government of this Church, and of its overseas missionary jurisdictions. (PEC Constitution, Preamble)
I've highlighted portions of the text that I find relevant. First, it is interesting that the relationship with the Anglican Communion is placed on level grounds as the membership in the Catholic Church, almost as if these were equivalent. The second thing to note is that the purpose of PECUSA (and the Anglican Communion), according to the Preamble, is to uphold and propagate the historic Faith and Order of the Church as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer. It's not clear which BCP this is referring to but for the sake of contemporary issues, I assume it means the 1979 BCP.
Next, I quote the Preface to the 1789 BCP, which explains further the rationale for changes in the Liturgy and further details how PECUSA sees itself in relation to the Church of England.
It is a most invaluable part of that blessed “liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free,” that in his worship different forms and usages may without offence be allowed, provided the substance of the Faith be kept entire; and that, in every Church, what cannot be clearly determined to belong to Doctrine must be referred to Discipline; and therefore, by common consent and authority, may be altered, abridged, enlarged, amended, or otherwise disposed of, as may seem most convenient for the edification of the people, “according to the various exigency of times and occasions.”
The Church of England, to which the Protestant Episcopal Church in these States is indebted, under God, for her first foundation and a long continuance of nursing care and protection, hath, in the Preface of her Book of Common Prayer, laid it down as a rule, that “The particular Forms of Divine Worship, and the Rites and Ceremonies appointed to be used therein, being things in their own nature indifferent, and alterable, and so acknowledged; it is but reasonable that upon weighty and important considerations, according to the various exigency of times and occasions, such changes and alterations should be made therein, as to those that are in place of Authority should, from time to time, seem either necessary or expedient."
The same Church hath not only in her Preface, but likewise in her Articles and Homilies, declared the necessity and expediency of occasional alterations and amendments in her Forms of Public Worship; and we find accordingly, that, seeking to keep the happy mean between too much stiffness in refusing, and too much easiness in admitting variations in things once advisedly established, she hath, in the reign of several Princes, since the first compiling of her Liturgy in the time of Edward the Sixth, upon just and weighty considerations her thereunto moving, yielded to make such alterations in some particulars, as in their respective times were thought convenient; yet so as that the main body and essential parts of the same (as well in the chiefest materials, as in the frame and order thereof) have still been continued firm and unshaken.Her general aim in these different reviews and alterations hath been, as she further declares in her said Preface, to do that which, according to her best understanding, might most tend to the preservation of peace and unity in the Church; the procuring of reverence, and the exciting of piety and devotion in the worship of God; and, finally, the cutting off occasion, from them that seek occasion, of cavil or quarrel against her Liturgy. And although, according to her judgment, there be not any thing in it contrary to the Word of God, or to sound doctrine, or which a godly man may not with a good conscience use and submit unto, or which is not fairly defensible, if allowed such just and favourable construction as in common equity ought to be allowed to all human writings; yet upon the principles already laid down, it cannot but be supposed that further alterations would in time be found expedient. Accordingly, a Commission for a review was issued in the year 1689: but this great and good work miscarried at that time; and the Civil Authority has not since thought proper to revive it by any new Commission.
But when in the course of Divine Providence, these American States became independent with respect to civil government, their ecclesiastical independence was necessarily included; and the different religious denominations of Christians in these States were left at full and equal liberty to model and organize their respective Churches, and forms of worship, and discipline, in such manner as they might judge most convenient for their future prosperity; consistently with the constitution and laws of their country.
The attention of this Church was in the first place drawn to those alterations in the Liturgy which became necessary in the prayers for our Civil Rulers, in consequence of the Revolution. And the principal care herein was to make them conformable to what ought to be the proper end of all such prayers, namely, that “Rulers may have grace, wisdom, and understanding to execute justice, and to maintain truth;” and that the people “may lead quiet and peaceable lives, in all godliness and honesty.”But while these alterations were in review before the Convention, they could not but, with gratitude to God, embrace the happy occasion which was offered to them (uninfluenced and unrestrained by any worldly authority whatsoever) to take a further review of the Public Service, and to establish such other alterations and amendments therein as might be deemed expedient.
It seems unnecessary to enumerate all the different alterations and amendments. They will appear, and it is to be hoped, the reasons of them also, upon a comparison of this with the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England. In which it will also appear 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.
And now, this important work being brought to a conclusion, it is hoped the whole will be received and examined by every true member of our Church, and every sincere Christian, with a meek, candid, and charitable frame of mind; without prejudice or prepossessions; seriously considering what Christianity is, and what the truths of the Gospel are; and earnestly beseeching Almighty God to accompany with his blessing every endeavour for promulgating them to mankind in the clearest, plainest, most affecting and majestic manner, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our blessed Lord and Saviour.
Philadelphia, October, 1789.
Since the Preface refers to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Church of England, it is profitable to specify what those are here.
The Doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures.
In particular such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal.
PEC agrees that it does not intend to depart from the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Church of England, except where local circumstance requires.
Now to refer to the Constitution and Canons to further clarify matters.
First, the Constitution states that ordinands must make the following oath at their ordination.
No person shall be ordered Priest or Deacon to minister in this Church until the person shall have been examined by the Bishop and two Priests and shall have exhibited such testimonials and other requisites as the Canons in that case provided may direct. No person shall be ordained and consecrated Bishop, or ordered Priest or Deacon to minister in this Church, unless at the time, in the presence of the ordaining Bishop or Bishops, the person shall subscribe and make the following declaration:
I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and I do solemnly engage to conform to the Doctrine, Discipline, and Worship of the Episcopal Church. (Article VIII)From previous documents, I think it is evident that the "doctrine, discipline, and worship" of the Church refers to the Book of Common Prayer, which contains the Articles of Religion and the Ordinal therein. Article X guarantees that the BCP be used in all Dioceses of the Church:
The Book of Common Prayer, as now established or hereafter amended by the authority of this Church, shall be in use in all the Dioceses of this Church. (Article X)In the Canons, we see the care that is given to make sure that all copies of the BCP reflect the text o the Standard Book.
Sec. 1. The copy of the Book of Common Prayer accepted by theIn 1979, this canon read as follows:
General Convention of this Church, in the year of our Lord 1979, and authenticated by the signatures of the Presiding Officers and Secretaries of the two Houses of the General Convention, is hereby declared to be the Standard Book of Common Prayer of this Church. (Title II.3.1)
Sec. 1. The copy of the Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church, according to the Use of the Episcopal Church, together with the Psalter or Psalms of David, the form of making, ordaining, and consecrating Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, the form of Consecration of a Church or Chapel, and an office of institution of ministers and Historical Documents of the Church, includingthe Articles of Religion, accepted by the General Convention of this Church, in the year of our Lord 1979, and authenticated by the signatures of the Presiding Officers and Secretaries of the two Houses of the General Convention, is hereby declared to be the Standard Book of Common Prayer of this Church.
However, in the Convention of 1985, the text was edited to its present form. The drafters of the revision commented, to clarify the position of the Articles:
Lastly, I turn to White and Dykman, the official commentary on PEC Constitution and Canons. Granted, any doctrinal references in the C&C are scant but, commenting on Article VIII, White and Dykman say:
The Articles of Religion still remain 'established' by Article X, and, until the adoption of the revision of the Prayer Book in 1979, they were printed at the end of all Books of Common Prayer... The Prayer Book of 1979 has placed the Articles in a section in the latter part of the Book entitled "Historical Documents of the Church" which includes also such theological documents as the Christological definition of the Council of Chalcedon and the Athanasian Creed. (White and Dykman, 136)It is true that PEC clergy were never required to subscribe to the Articles of Religion like clergy in England were required to do. However, there is good reason for why this was not required. William White, in 1801, thought that the language of Articles VIII and X (different numbers back then) and the oath in ordination were sufficient so that an additional subscription was not necessary. The "doctrine, discipline, and worship" of the Church is defined as the Book of Common Prayer by all the sources that I can find. This means that the Articles of Religion are still binding on PEC clergy.
To answer, probably the most common objection, is that the Articles of Religion are in the "Historical Documents" section and therefore not part of the "doctrine, discipline, and worship" of the Church. I would raise two issues with this interpretation (it is a plausible interpretation). First, there is no official statement from PEC to state that "Historical Documents" are not part of the "doctrine, discipline, and worship" of the Church. There could easily be a resolution or canon to say that Historical Documents are not intended to be part of the ordination oath yet no such clarification exists. Second, if we say that the "Historical Documents" are not part of the "doctrine, discipline, and worship" of the Church, we run some serious risks in diluting or denying essential Christology. The Definition of Chalcedon and the Athanasian Creeds are also part of the Historical Documents. While many progressives might be willing to part ways with Chalcedon, I'm not aware of any orthodox churchmen willing to do so. Lastly, if we say that the Historical Documents are not binding on modern Church, we must abandon the Lambeth-Chicago Quadrilateral as a statement of Anglican identity because it is also in the Historical Documents section.