Friday, November 30, 2012

Phil Wainwright on the Anglican Episcopate, II

The Anglican Episcopate, Past Present and Future, Part Two
A Presentation by the Rev. Dr. Philip Wainwright, Priest Associate
 St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, Highland Park, Pittsburgh
Sunday, November 11, 2012

Last week I described the emergence of three approaches to the episcopate:

the Erastian (I didn’t use the word last week, but hopefully the concept was clear), which sees the bishop as one of the earthly powers, a royal official in the case of the Church of England; the evangelical, which sees the bishop as a presiding presbyter with only such authority over others as those others give him and only for as long as he exercises it to their satisfaction; and the Anglo-Catholic, which sees the bishop as a totally different sort of minister than a presbyter, someone who has the same power the apostles had to impart the Holy Spirit and so on. Anglo-Catholics believed that episcopacy was essential to being Christian, that those who denied this kind of episcopal authority were disobeying God. I should point out that there are, of course, people who believe that the Evangelical approach is essential to being a Christian, but most of those left the church once the Act of Toleration was passed in 1689. Those who stayed, the Anglican Evangelicals, thought their view was closer to the Bible’s teaching, but did not dismiss other views (even the Erastian) as un-Christian.

Anyway, all three of these approaches to the episcopate were available when the Anglicans in the colonies became Anglicans in the United States and reorganised their church. (The word ‘Anglican’ was not used at that time, of course; it was known, but its use was extremely rare.) The Erastian view can be dismissed fairly quickly because for the bishop to be a state official, the state has to want him to be, and the people trying to revive the Anglican Church after the revolution believed that the new nation didn’t want to go there. The Evangelical approach was urged on the church by William White, the Rector of Christ Church Philadelphia who had been chaplain to the Continental Congress. He wrote a pamphlet in 1782, The Case of the Episcopal Churches in the United States Considered, in which he discussed all the issues involved in keeping an Anglican Church going here, and for most of the surviving Anglicans, his pamphlet was the starting point for the discussion.

At the time he wrote, the surviving parishes in Maryland had already begun to organise themselves into the Protestant Episcopal Church in Maryland, but they were proceeding as though what they were doing was of no interest to anyone else. This was a very reasonable thing to do; the various colonial churches were as independent of each other as the colonies themselves, and it did not immediately occur to everyone that their churches wouldn’t continue that way. White referred to ‘the Episcopal Churches’, plural, in his title and throughout his pamphlet. But he saw an opportunity for a single church, a national church for the new nation, and one of the goals of his pamphlet was to suggest a national as well as a state-by-state character for American Anglicans.

His opening sentence said ‘It may be presumed, that the members of the Episcopal Churches… entertain a preference for their own communion; and that accordingly they are not a little anxious, to see some speedy and decisive measures adopted for its continuance’. He defines ‘episcopal churches’ as ‘the churches professing the religious principles of the Church of England.’
Strictly speaking, the word ‘episcopal’ means ‘having bishops’. White uses it for the whole range of things that are distinctive of the Church of England, forgetting that between 1640 and 1660 episcopacy was not one of those distinctives, but White’s not the only one to have ignored that.

But back to the ‘national’ part of White’s concern. Anglicans up to this point had been happy to be under the authority of the Bishop of London, even though he was the king’s officer, because he didn’t do more than ordain and license ministers; but the new nation does not want such officers. Nor should the state governments who ran the church do so even in the places where they did it before the revolution; ‘it would ill become those bodies, composed of men of various denominations (however respectable collectively and as individuals) to enact laws for the Episcopal Churches, which will no doubt… claim and exercise the privilege of governing themselves.’ So national won’t mean ‘established by law’, but it will mean a single church for the whole nation.

It will also be a national church in the other sense crucial to the identity of the Church of England, which began when Henry declared that no foreigner, even the Pope, was going to run the English Church. In the same way, the American Church will be completely independent. ‘A church government that would contain the constituent principles of the Church of England, and yet be independent of foreign jurisdiction or influence, would remove [the] anxiety which at present hangs heavy on the minds of many sincere persons.’
‘Subjection to any spiritual jurisdiction connected with the temporal authority of a foreign state,’ he wrote, would be ‘inconsistent with the duties resulting from [their new] allegiance.’

Even if the Bishop of London were willing and able to continue running the American church, ‘a dependence on his lordship and his successors… would be liable to the reproach of foreign influence, and render Episcopalians less qualified than those of other communions, to be entrusted by their country.’ We must consider our selves a national church and govern ourselves. ‘Though the Episcopal Churches in these states will not be national or legal establishments, the… principle applies, being the danger of foreign jurisdiction.’

He then deals with the question of whether the new church will need bishops.

He doesn’t actually say they’ll be necessary, but he does say that people will want them. ‘They have depended on the English bishops for ordination of their clergy, and on no occasion expressed a dissatisfaction with Episcopacy. This, considering the liberty they enjoyed… of forming their churches on whatever plan they liked best, is a presumptive proof of their preferring the Episcopal government.’ But, he adds, ‘On the other hand, there cannot be produced an instance of laymen in America… soliciting the introduction of a bishop; it was probably by a great majority of them thought an hazardous experiment.’

Food for thought there. Nevertheless, he says, ‘it may fairly be inferred, that the Episcopalians on this continent will wish to institute among themselves an Episcopal government.’ Indeed, ‘to depart from Episcopacy, would be giving up a leading characteristic of the communion; which, however indifferently considered as to divine appointment, might be productive of all the evils generally attending changes of this sort.’ In other words, bishops may not be necessary, but it makes sense to continue what we’re used to. However, we’ll see that not everyone agreed with White about that.

He acknowledged the relationship between episcopacy and tyranny that we saw so clearly last week: ‘In the minds of some, the idea of Episcopacy will be connected with that of immoderate power; to which it may be answered, that power becomes dangerous, not from the precedency of one man, but from his being independent.' So if our bishops aren’t allowed to be independent of the rest of the church, the ‘hazardous experiment’ is worth trying.

One of the simplest ways of preventing bishops being too independent is to keep the area over which the bishop has authority small; we saw last week how often English churchmen tried and failed to reduce the size of their dioceses. White proposed that ‘the duty assigned to that order [the episcopate] ought not materially to interfere with their employments, in the station of parochial clergy; the superintendence of each will therefore be confined to a small district.’ Bishops with small dioceses, he said, was ‘a favorite idea with all moderate Episcopalians.’ But not only will his diocese be small; the bishop will have a parish of his own—another key element in the attempts to reform the English episcopate in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Another well known reform would be introduced: bishops would be elected:
‘The power of electing a superior order of ministers ought to be in the clergy and laity together, they being both interested in the choice.’ In the early church, all the people of the diocese gathered to elect the bishop, which ‘occasioned great disorders’; so White proposed that representatives of the laity and clergy, rather than all of them, choose the bishop. Some of the most radical English reformers had proposed that the bishop be elected by the clergy, but I know of only one person, prior to White, who had proposed this for the Church of England.

He then proposed a system of government for the church that reproduced the essentials of the English system, but in a way that fit the new situation.
In England lay participation was provided for by Parliament (although Parliament had no role at all in the appointment of bishops), but that wouldn’t work here. So the the lay representatives and clerical representatives will meet in one body. He’s aware that the clergy might not like this, but comments that they ‘will no doubt have an influence proportioned to the opinion entertained of their piety and learning; but will never (it is presumed) wish to usurp an exclusive right of regulation.’

Ha! And the body that elects bishops, should also be the body that deprives them of their office. ‘It is well known, that the interference of the civil authority in such instances … has been considered by many as inconsistent with ecclesiastical principles; an objection which will be avoided, when deprivation can only be under regulations enacted by a fair representation of the churches, and by an authority entirely ecclesiastical. It is presumed, that none will so far mistake the principles of the church of England, as to talk of the impossibility of depriving a bishop.’ Ha, again!

White thought it would take some time to organise all this, and acknowledged that we might have to do without the episcopate for a while, but pointed out that even this is justified by the principles of the Church of England. ‘It will not be difficult to prove, that a temporary departure from Episcopacy in the present instance would be warranted by [the C of E’s] doctrines, by her practice, and by the principles on which Episcopal government is asserted.’ I don’t think we have time to discuss the evidence for that, but I’d be glad to pass it on to anyone interested. So, to sum up White’s proposal: a church government composed of laity and clergy, including elected Bishops with small dioceses, held accountable to those dioceses, who would be parish pastors, and consecrated not by other Bishops, since there weren’t any in the new country, but by the clergy.

White represents the Low Church reformed evangelical episcopate, but the High Church unreformed absolutist episcopate did have American Anglican supporters. The High Church end of the spectrum, oddly enough, had its headquarters in Connecticut, where such ideas had been planted by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, which had for a couple of generations sent out clergy to the colonies, mostly to New England. High Church ideas had taken deep root there, and the Connecticut clergy condemned the whole idea of lay participation in church government, and frothed at the mouth at the idea of Bishops consecrated by priests: ‘such Episcopalians as consent even to a temporary departure [from the tradition], and set aside this ordinance of Christ for conveniency, can scarcely deserve the name of Christians’, said one—the tendency to make this view of the episcopate a matter of faith, necessary for salvation, was alive and well in America then, as it is today.

When the Connecticut clergy read White’s pamphlet, they immediately elected one of their number, Samuel Seabury, and sent him to England to get himself consecrated by bishops there before these radical ideas of White’s could take hold, hoping to establish an absolutist episcopate as a fait accompli. Such clergy, were, as you would expect, fans of the monarchy, and most of them were loyal to the king during the Revolution. Seabury himself was not only a supporter of the British, but served as chaplain to one of the British regiments, and after the war was over was given a lifetime pension by the British government.

Unfortunately for the fait accompli strategy, it took Seabury over a year to get consecrated, because the oath of allegiance to the king was required of all English clergy. He ended up being consecrated in Scotland by the descendants of the non-jurors I mentioned last week. Being a High Churchman, he returned to Connecticut with a mitre so he could look the part. It did not meet with universal approval back in New England: one observer wrote that ‘he appears in a black satin gown; white satin sleeves, white belly band, with a scarlet knapsack on his back, and something resembling a pyramid on his head.’

By the time Seabury got back White’s plan had won a lot of support. Only the New England states had not joined in, and the first General Convention was to be held in a few months. Seabury refused to attend it, saying ‘It will bring the Clergy into abject bondage to the Laity… a bishop, it seems, is to have no more power in the Convention than a Lay member. Doctrine, Disciplines, Liturgies, are all to be under lay control… I have always feared… the lax principles of the Southern Clergy,’ by which he meant everything south of New England, apparently. The Massachusetts church shared these views, and decided to join Seabury’s church rather than the church being formed by the General Convention. Seabury was already ordaining clergy, not just for Connecticut but for ministry anywhere in the country.

He was also making them take vows of obedience to him. He had also prepared his own Communion Service without consulting the rest of the church, as the Scottish bishops had asked him to—the very service that had started riots in Scotland, by the way. His clergy even elected a second bishop to seek consecration from the non-jurors. For a year or so there was a real possibility of two Anglican churches in America, one Anglo-Catholic and one at least moderately Evangelical.

The first General Convention, more or less along the lines proposed in White’s pamphlet, was held in September 1785. Seabury had been consecrated in 1784 and had already had his first Convocation, a purely clerical governing body, in August 1785, and was making his dissatisfaction with White’s approach widely known. No one from Connecticut or Massachusetts attended the first General Convention because it wouldn’t be called and presided over by a bishop. White was elected president, and committees were formed to draw up a constitution, a new Prayer Book, and discuss how best to obtain an episcopate, since Seabury’s version of it was not what they wanted. Each state represented was urged to elect a bishop while discussions with the English bishops were going on. White did manage to prevent the convention passing resolutions critical of Seabury and his association with the non-jurors, in the hope that some sort of accommodation could be worked out eventually. Another convention was planned for June 1786 to hear what progress had been made in all three areas.

The June 1786 Convention had no news on the episcopate, but passed resolutions preventing any of Seabury’s clergy serving in any of the dioceses represented. Since a reply from England was expected soon, the convention adjourned till October. By October, Parliament had cleared the way for consecrations to take place without the oath of allegiance in such cases, and the English bishops were willing to ordain three and only three bishops—provided that they did not join with Seabury in consecrating more.

The English bishops wanted nothing to do with the non-jurors. Three state conventions had elected bishops by this time, but Convention only approved two of them—the one elected by Maryland had been drunk during the previous convention and was not approved. The other two sailed for England with testimonials from the convention and were consecrated. On their return, Seabury offered to discuss with them (and them alone) the possibility of a church that included all of them. In the discussions that followed White agreed to allow GC to consider a separate house for bishops, and the 1789 convention approved that, and also affirmed that Seabury’s consecration was valid. Following these actions, Seabury and the New England delegations joined the convention, with White and Seabury meeting by themselves as the House of Bishops! Seabury also got the veto power that he was so keen on.

Two years later, Virginia elected Madison and sent him to England, where he was consecrated as the last of the three bishops promised. By 1792 Maryland had elected another bishop, and all four American bishops joined in consecrating him.

If you look at those dates, you can see that many dioceses were in no hurry about this; ten years since White’s pamphlet, seven years since the first General Convention, and still only five states had decided to adopt the episcopate. There was no requirement for them to do so; as long as each state was represented at Convention by someone, it didn’t matter whether it was lay or clergy (Connecticut refused to send lay delegates), and if clergy whether it was priest or bishop.

This reluctance to accept an episcopate at all could be seen in many quarters of the Episcopal Church. One of the reasons there had not been more vigorous attempts to send a bishop in colonial times was because so many members even of Anglican Churches in the colonies showed no enthusiasm for the idea. The election of Griffith as Bishop of Virginia, for instance, was a highly controversial thing. Griffith himself was a former SPG missionary from New York, and without his own enthusiasm for the episcopate, it’s arguable that Virginia would not have elected a Bishop at all. ‘I profess myself a sincere son of the Established church,’ wrote Colonel Richard Bland, a leading Virginia layman, ‘but I can embrace her doctrines without approving of her Hierarchy, which I know to be a Relick of the Papal Incroachments upon the Common Law.’ Hear, hear.

But because Maryland, Pennyslvania and New York had elected Bishops, the possibility was raised that Virginia should do the same. A committee was asked to consider the matter and report back the following year. The Virginia convention also enacted the first diocesan canons, and Seabury called it an unheard of thing that any church should dare to enact canon law without a Bishop’s involvement. It’s actually an unheard of thing for a diocese to enact canons at all; as far as I know, PECUSA is the only church in the Anglican Communion in which dioceses have a constitution and canons of their own. Anyway, the Committee recommended the election of a Bishop, despite the opposition of some on the committee, and Griffith was chosen. Griffith could not sail for England to be consecrated, however, because not enough people in the Diocese would contribute to the expenses for the trip.

After White and Provoost returned from England as Bishops, they were asked to consecrate Griffith, ignoring the tradition that three Bishops at least are required to consecrate a fourth. But White and Provoost had promised to wait until there were three of English consecration before consecrating more. Griffith was so discouraged that he declared himself ready to decline to be consecrated, except that there was no one else electable who would oppose the Evangelical element in the church. Which shows you what he thought of Madison, the other possibility for bishop! Eventually Griffith did decline, being convinced that his diocese would never co-operate in his consecration. No replacement was suggested until after he died, which took place within a year, when Madison, a man much more congenial to Anglicans of reformist leanings, was elected, and his expenses were paid and he became the third Bishop consecrated in England. If Virginia was reluctant to have a bishop, South Carolina was more so: she made it a condition of joining the new church that she would not have to have a Bishop, and although she did eventually elect one some years later, after he died she went without one for another eleven years.

The duties of the first bishops of the Episcopal Church were to confirm and to ordain, which as already mentioned required the consent of two presbyters according to the constitution. General Convention had also enacted a canon that required the consent of a standing committee before a bishop could ordain anyone—note ‘a’ not ‘the’. The first standing committees seem to have been appointed by the bishop rather than elected by the diocese, and also seem to have been composed only of clergy, since their original rôle was exclusively concerned with clergy. They recommended candidates for ordination; the bishop did not have to ordain those recommended, although this was proposed in some quarters, but could not ordain any without that recommendation. So despite the contrary opinion of White and Dykman, I think they were the American equivalent of the cathedral chapter, whose members performed the same rôle in England. Since the American church had no plans for cathedrals or chapters, the standing committees really were the presbytery that so many attempts at reform in England had proposed. This possibility is supported by the fact that the standing committee did not depend on the bishop’s authority, even though they appear to have been appointed by him; they chose their own officers, set their own rules, could meet whether he wanted them to or not, and they could and did advise him whether he wanted advice or not. The right to do these things had been often requested by presbyters in England during the 17th and 18th centuries.

The bishop was also expected to visit and inspect the parishes and clergy, and keep a record of his ‘proceedings’ in doing so. The bishop was paid by the parish he served as rector, and the expenses of his visitation of other parishes was paid by the parishes visited. It was the duty of the other clergy to cover the bishop’s absences from his own parish when they were for the purpose of visitation. This system appears to have persisted for a while; provision for supplying the bishop’s own parish when he was off bishopping was kept when the canons were revised in 1832, modified slightly in 1850, but not finally dropped until 1904.

I’ve been unable to discover who was the first bishop not to have a parish of his own. It's easy to see how having the bishop lose any parish role separated him from the rest of the people of the diocese. It gave the him a whole new task, merely out of job-preservation: his interest now would be as much in an independent diocesan establishment that could give him a living, as in the clergy and parishes of the diocese. And what a huge amount of a bishop’s work is still devoted to that in one sense or other. How much better it would have been to have coped with the growth of the church by subdividing the diocese and keeping the original arrangement than turning the bishop into a minister without cure who needed an alternative source of income.

The question of removing a bishop from office is very complicated, and I can't speak with authority here, but the evidence in White and Dykman seems to suggest that there was no canonical procedure for disciplining a bishop till 1841, when it was his fellow bishops who would hear any charge and impose any punishment. The charge would have to be made by the convention of the diocese he served, two thirds majority in each order, or any three bishops. Prior to this all discipline seems to have been local, and exercised by the standing committee. I’ve found no record of a bishop being disciplined, but if it were to have happened, there was no mechanism apart from the standing committee by which it could be done. Perhaps the ease with which it could be done under that system is why it was never necessary; bishops simply did not act in the high-handed ways that have become a feature of the Episcopal Church's history since.

The change of system seems to have been brought about by the fact that for the first time there was a bishop who needed to be disciplined, although not because of complaints in his diocese, but because the other bishops didn’t like his theology. They changed the canons for the sole purpose of removing him. Unfortunately, at the same time, it seems, they removed the possibility that a Standing Committee could remove a bishop. One commentator says this was an application of the principle that everyone has a right to be tried by his peers, which is not only insulting to presbyters and laity, suggesting that we’re not the peers of someone who owes his job to our choice, but is also incoherent: imagine saying a plumber must have a jury only of plumbers.

There has always been a list of offences for which bishops and priests can be tried, but since 1804 priests can also be removed even if they have done nothing that can be called an offence, but are simply no longer effective or useful--referred to in the canons as the pastoral relationship breaking down. There has never been an equivalent for bishops—until this year. A canon was passed by this year’s GC allowing a diocese to remove a bishop because the pastoral relationship between bishop and diocese has broken down, just as in a parish.

The possibility that the bishop might not have the support of the diocese has now been recognised, and provision made for doing something about that, although since the bishops still have Seabury's veto, the canon has considerably more protection than a priest has in the same situation. First, the PB is to try and resolve the situation; if that fails, a committee of one lay person, one priest and one bishop not in the affected diocese (bishop appointed by the PB and the others by chair of HOD) examines the matter and holds hearings; if they recommend that the bishop go, a two thirds majority of the house of bishops has to agree. Perhaps one day two thirds of the presbyters of a diocese will need to consent to the ejection of a priest! but any accountability for a bishop is a tiny step in the right direction—and since it's the most recent development in this history, it's also a good place to stop, and give you the opportunity to ask questions or make comments.

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