Friday, November 30, 2012

Phil Wainwright on the Anglican Episcopate

The Anglican Episcopate, Past Present and Future
A Presentation by the Rev. Dr. Philip Wainwright, Priest Associate
 St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, Highland Park, Pittsburgh
Sunday, November 4, 2012

Last time I talked about history at St A's, we looked at the DNA of Anglicanism, particularly in relationship to the culture in which it lives and works; today and next week we’ll be looking at one particular element of that DNA, the episcopate. A few years ago I did a lot of work on the various attempts to reform the episcopate in the Church of England in the second half of the 17th century, and more recently I’ve been looking at the same subject in the 16th and early 17th centuries, which means I’ve done a bit of what’s necessary if the contemporary church is going to think about the episcopate.

We in this diocese have agonised endlessly over our most recent experience of the episcopate, but if we ever want to get beyond that, we need to need to think outside that particular box. We have a new bishop now, and he deserves a diocese that isn’t stuck in a perception of the episcopate that goes back no further than the last fifteen years, and that will take a bit of effort on our part as well as his. As he and we jostle our way to a working relationship we are bound to do a bit of thinking among all the emoting that we will also no doubt do, and it is very clear from the recent General Convention that the wider church is doing some thinking about the subject, so it seems like a good moment to look back over the whole course of the episcopate in the Anglican tradition, on the grounds that those who are ignorant of their history are doomed to relive it.

This week I’ll be talking about the episcopate as it existed in the church before the Episcopal Church was founded; next week I’ll talk about how the first Episcopalians took all that into account when they established an episcopate of their own. Most of you have heard that there was no bishop in America prior to the establishment of the Episcopal Church, and you may have heard that no bishop could be sent here from England during the colonial period, because the colonists didn’t want one. You may even have heard the stories, which are true, about how riots sometimes broke out in some American cities when there seemed like a serious prospect of an American episcopate. I’ve heard people comment on that with amusement, as though it was because those poor colonials were so ignorant that they were bound to react that way. The truth is that they weren’t ignorant at all, they knew only too well what the episcopate was, and if you’d been a native here in those days, you’d have rioted too. So I think our first task is to understand why that was the case, and then next week the story of the arguments caused in the Episcopal Church by the prospect of an episcopate will make a lot more sense.

The word ‘bishop’ is a rather pathetic attempt by people living in England in the dark ages to pronounce the Greek word ‘episcopos’, which is used in several places in the New Testament when referring to people in leadership in the early Christian church. It is a compound of the Greek words for ‘watch’ and ‘over’, and its Latin equivalent is therefore ‘supervisor’ and its English equivalent ‘overseer’. It is clearly a position of responsibility in the church, but the exact nature of that responsibility in the New Testament church has been and remains not only a matter of dispute, but a cause of division in the visible church. Firstly because it’s not the only word the New Testament uses for leadership in the church. The other word the NT uses is ‘presbyter’, which means an older person, an elder. Our word ‘priest’, is actually another pathetic attempt by dark age Englishmen to pronounce a Greek word, presbyter!

In fact the New Testament rarely uses the word bishop and when it does the two words priest and bishop are used interchangeably—they mean the same thing, and you can call either of them by either word. There isn’t time to demonstrate this, but there isn’t a lot of disagreement about it, at least not among historians and New Testament scholars. The point being that in Scripture bishops have no intrinsic authority over presbyters, only that authority that people give to the one they have chosen to preside—an authority that can always be withdrawn as well as conferred.

Today, of course, a bishop is defined as something quite different from a priest, at least in Anglicanism. We have what is called the ‘monarchical episcopate’. A single person who is head over a substantial chunk of the church, who in practice cannot be called to account by those who created him. How the New Testament model developed into the model we have is also something we don’t have time to go into; we inherited them from the mediæval church, and the question for us is how Anglicans have handled that inheritance. So I have to cover over 200 years of history in the next half an hour; my challenge will be not to spend too long on the period I know best!

We begin by turning our minds back to the golden years of Henry VIII. It was during his reign that the work of reforming the church, begun by John Wyclif in the 14th century, ended up once again on the agenda of the Church of England. The reformation in England began with a single principle: the King of England, and not the Pope, would run the Church of England. All the reforms that took place in England during Henry’s time did so because he either wanted them, or didn’t care one way or the other and allowed others to put them in place. The Act of Supremacy of 1534 put the church completely under Henry’s control. The supremacy of a single person over the entire church was not a new or controversial idea; until Henry, this was the Pope’s place in the church. Henry became the Church of England's Pope. What this meant for the episcopate was expressed in a law of 1533, the Appointment of Bishops Act, which gave the king the right to tell Cathedral Chapters whom to elect as bishop, and the Chapters twelve days to elect that person. If they failed to elect the desired person, the Act gave the king the power to appoint the person directly. Before the break with Rome, the Pope appointed all bishops, and their authority was derived from him, even when he was appointing the person desired by the crown.

Once Henry became supreme head of the church, he became the source of episcopal authority. His assumption of the papal rôle was symbolised by his confiscation of the papal bulls confirming the episcopal rôle from those who had already received one from the Pope, and his issuing of pallia, the traditional symbol of delegated papal authority, at least to archbishops. All the bishops were reappointed to their office directly by the king, the way assistant clergy have to be reappointed to their office when a new rector arrives. This wasn’t just for Henry; the Act provided for episcopal appointments to lapse at the death of the king, and his successor could reappoint or not as he desired.

Bishops conducted a ‘visitation’ of their diocese every three years, to make sure all was in order; Henry, as though he were an Archbishop, conducted his own visitation in 1535, or at least sent his own commissioners, who were lay people, to conduct one, and while it was on the bishops were suspended from their office. A bishop could not even preach without his express permission.'

So complete was their junior status that there was even question of whether an ecclesiastical ceremony was necessary for the exercise of the episcopal rôle, with some believing a form of consecration should be continued, others (including Cranmer) arguing that the royal appointment was sufficient. So bishops were for Henry exactly what they had been for the Popes. They were his personal officers, whose only job was to make sure that the church did what Henry wanted and nothing else.

Under Henry, what we think of as the Protestant reformation was a pretty spotty affair in England. When he died people were still using the word ‘mass’, it was still in Latin, most of mediæval theology was still taught and believed, there were crucifixes and rosaries all over the place, and even the bibles Henry had allowed his Protestant archbishop to install in the parish churches had gone missing in many places. It was during the reign of Henry’s son, Edward VI, that the Church of England became a truly Protestant church, with a Prayer Book in English, a reformed theological statement in the Articles of Religion (read them in our current Prayer Book) which put the authority of the Bible higher than the authority of tradition or reason, and everything else we associate with a Protestant church.

The protestant churches in other countries had mostly dispensed with the episcopate. It was kept in England, but under Edward was even further subordinated to the state. The play-acting of an election by the Cathedral chapter was set aside; the royal nod led immediately to consecration. Henry had appointed some enthusiastic Protestants as bishops, but Edward appointed nothing else, and preaching and teaching quickly became their chief work.

Ordination was seen as an administrative rather than a spiritual duty, and confirmation was generally not bothered with, even though a service for it had been provided in the Prayer Book. Edward’s successor, Bloody Mary, need not detain us, since she was only concerned with undoing the changes that had been made, and had an even shorter reign than Edward, and the only lasting difference she made was to bring catholicism into further disrepute by burning so many people, including a few bishops, who remained committed to the Protestant cause.

Mary was followed by Elizabeth. Modern Anglicans like to talk about the Elizabethan settlement, as though something was actually settled, but that hardly does justice to the reality. It’s true to say that by the end of Elizabeth’s reign, the Church of England had achieved its present condition of comprising Anglo-Catholics, Evangelicals, and a group who thought both the other two groups were slightly nuts, but anyone who would describe that as a ‘settlement’ must have been asleep for the past thirty years. We do see, however, in the forty years of the Elizabethan episcopate, pretty much the whole range of views on episcopacy, at least in embryo, that have been in tension with each other ever since.

Elizabeth herself wanted an episcopate just like Daddy’s: state officials who would carry out her wishes. The trouble was that for the longest time she couldn’t find any willing to do that. All but one of the bishops Mary had appointed refused to accept her supremacy, so she had to deprive them. She took her time over this, because she didn’t care much for most of those she would have to appoint as bishops in their place, but after about a year all but one of the bishops were new appointments. This meant that the Protestant evangelical episcopate was first on the Elizabethan scene. These were people who had learned the basics of Protestantism in England during Edward’s reign, but had left the country rather than be burned, and spent the years of Mary’s reign in cities like Zurich and Geneva, where Protestantism had advanced far beyond Luther. There were a few protestants, like her Archbishop of Canterbury, Parker, who had like Elizabeth herself laid low during Mary’s reign, and could be thought of as moderately Protestant, if that’s possible, but only a few; most of her bishops were by necessity drawn from the ranks of those who hadn’t figured out how to be moderately biblical. This meant they had a very different view of the episcopate than Elizabeth did.

The episcopate had not survived in most Protestant countries on the continent, mostly, I suspect, because those countries were a great deal smaller than England. Neither Germany nor Switzerland were nations as we think of them today, but regions where there was no central government at all, and clergy were pretty much free to re-fashion the church however they wanted to. Protestants felt no theological pressure to preserve the episcopate, because in the bible bishops were no different from presbyters, and since presbyters was the word most often used in the Bible it was simpler to just stick to that. There were some Protestants who thought it was important to keep the traditions of the first few centuries of the church as well as those of the Bible, which would include the monarchical episcopate, but if there had ever been such a thing, it had been destroyed by papal catholicism. Papal government had reduced bishops to nothing more than stand-ins for the pope. According to this view, only the pope could really claim to be a bishop in the patristic sense. And even that authenticity was questionable, because he did not hold the apostolic faith. Only those who taught what the apostles taught, and lived as they had lived, could be thought of as successors to the apostles.

Roman bishops on the continent who became Protestants became presbyters, not Protestant bishops, because it was the Protestant view that they had never been bishops in the apostolic sense.

Elizabeth’s first bishops contained a substantial number of Protestants who considered themselves presiding presbyters, and actively sought the advice and consent of their fellow presbyters. They encouraged gatherings of clergy with the bishop through which the diocese was governed by general consent of the clergy rather than by orders from above. They spent more energy protecting their clergy from Elizabeth’s attempts to get them to wear vestments and use the Prayer Book than enforcing those things on Elizabeth’s behalf.

Elizabeth’s first ABC did his best to protect those bishops while also trying to appease Elizabeth, who deeply distrusted the reform-minded clergy because their approach encouraged independence of thought among the lower classes, from whom she wanted only obedience. Her second ABC, Edmund Grindal, did not try to appease her, but bluntly told her she needed to stop interfering with the clergy in their work. That was the wrong thing to say to the supreme governor, especially when she was the daughter of Henry VIII, and she put him under house arrest and began to issue instructions directly to the bishops until he died and she could appoint Whitgift as her ABC, who was happy to change his mind about reform and enforce her orders. For the first 25 years of her reign, the Church of England was a Protestant Evangelical church, differing from the continental churches only in using the word ‘bishop’ for some of its clergy.

But not all bishops were good Protestants. There were some who didn’t really care whether the church was Protestant or Catholic as long as they were well paid and had a seat in the House of Lords. And Elizabeth did not seem bothered by this. As a result, there were proposals to reform the episcopate by law, or by Elizabeth’s decree as supreme governor, from the very beginning of Elizabeth’s reign. One of these was sent to England from Geneva by John Knox, former chaplain to Edward VI, even before he could arrive in person, arguing that each bishopric should be divided into ten smaller ones, with none of their bishops exercising civil office, ie sitting in the House of Lords. Knox, of course, was not allowed back in England, not because of his views on episcopacy but because of his views on women in royal office, and went on to become the great reformer of Scotland, where he had grown up.

His views remained influential in England, however. Another former exile, John Aylmer, argued for reform of episcopal salaries and perks: ‘You Bishoppes, away with your superfluities, yeld vp your thousands, be content with hundreds, as they be in other reformed Churches, where be as great learned men as you are… that euery parishe church may haue his preacher, euery City his superintendent to live honestly and not pompously’. The ‘every city its superintendent’ principle would also lead to more and smaller dioceses.

After returning to England, incidentally, Aylmer became Bishop of London, which seems to have modified his enthusiasm for the hundreds. The new Queen’s secretary, William Cecil, came up with a plan to reform the episcopate by reducing the independent wealth of the dioceses, leaving the bishops dependent on the crown for their income. Convocation recommended limits to the power of bishops to ordain whoever they like: ‘six learned ministers’ must ‘consent’ to and participate in the laying of hands on all to be ordained. Elizabeth vetoed all these recommendations, after which proposals for reform were submitted to Parliament rather than to her. This was more than Elizabeth could stand; while she had, like Henry, wanted Parliament’s support for her Act of Supremacy, once it was passed she saw no further rôle for Parliament. She and she alone ran the church. In the episcopate as in everything else Elizabeth’s policy was ‘to alter nothing which she had once setled’.

Proposals for reform of the episcopate continued to be made, of course, but it would become boring to continue to describe them, because there wasn’t a lot of difference between them. The basic complaints were that bishops had too much power, used too large a share of the church’s resources, did not take the opinions of either laity or the rest of the clergy into account in their decision making, and were not accountable to the people they served.

It was noticed even in Elizabeth’s time, by the way, that ‘the places changed the men’, and that the power of the office provided too many examples of Lord Acton’s famous observation. Their rôle as state officials was for most Anglicans not the problem, although as they continued to resist reform an increasing number of people began to question the concept of a state church, and separatist congregations emerged in some places. But the pressure for reform did have an effect; the majority of bishops continued to be basically sympathetic to, or at least tolerant of the reform idea, and ran their dioceses in ways that gave the clergy the freedom they wanted, and even a share in the government of the church, as long as they weren’t too public about it.

When Elizabeth died and James I became supreme governor of the church, a slew of new proposals was put forth, but with little more success than with Elizabeth. There were a few minor improvements; clergy were allowed to meet in local deaneries for mutual encouragement, but not to discuss any of the business of the church. James had not had a happy experience with the system in Scotland, where bishops did have to govern with the priests, and he rather liked the idea of being able to govern the church directly through people of his own class accountable only to him. Proposals for reform of the episcopate continued to be made sporadically during James’ reign, but none of them got any traction with the king, and as long as the king took his rôle as supreme governor of the church seriously, there was no other way to get reform.

But big changes were on the way. Elizabeth’s attitude towards the episcopate had been based mostly on her needs as governor of the nation; if people, even minor officials like parish priests, were allowed to think for themselves in ecclesiastical matters, before you knew where you were they would want to do the same in the affairs of government, and that idea had no appeal for her. But towards the end of her reign, a group began to emerge, or re-emerge, in the church which had the same view of the episcopate as a higher office than the priesthood, but for theological rather than practical reasons, and during the reign of James they became fairly numerous in the church.

The easiest way to understand them is to describe them as the Anglo-Catholic or High Church movement, although neither of those terms were used until much later. They were against any reform of the episcopate, and in some ways wanted bishops to have even more power. They considered that bishops should have the power they had not because they were representatives of the king but because they were in some way the successors of the apostles. That in itself wouldn’t have been much of a problem, but many of them also believed that this was an article of faith, like Christ’s divinity or salvation by faith alone. In other words, those who didn’t share their view of the episcopate were not just people who saw things differently, but people who weren’t true Christians. The Evangelicals under Elizabeth were told they must put up with the various things that they objected to because the Supreme Governor said so, and most of them were able to live with that, because she wouldn’t be Supreme Governor for ever, and might even change her mind if you could just give her a good reason. That’s very different from being told that you must not just put up with these things, but embrace them, because they weren’t just the wishes of the powers that be, but the will of God, and that if your wishes were different, you were doing the devil’s work.

James liked this development up to a point, but was smart enough not to take sides. He kept the two parties balanced by appointing roughly equal numbers of evangelical and High Church bishops, but when he died in 1625 and his son became Charles I, things began to go pear-shaped pretty rapidly. Charles I was an enthusiastic fan of the High Church party, and took sides with a vengeance; almost all his episcopal appointments were from that party. Worse still, he appointed an ABC who could only be described as filled with hatred for Evangelicals, and who began systematically to try and convert them or at least shut them up by force, even reviving mediæval punishments which were still legal like clipping people’s ears. Worst of all was the fact that Charles believed in absolute monarchy, that kings governed by decree rather than law. When Parliament refused to go along with him, he governed without it, and the people lost what little voice in government which they had had.

This drove some out of the church and to new life in America, and many more into a deep resentment against the bishops, believing, with some justification, that the bishops were supporting and encouraging the king in his arbitrary government. Elizabeth had been right: once people believed they had a right to a say in the government of the church, they soon concluded that they had a right to a say in the government of the state as well. The reformation is without doubt the origin of modern democracy. Those who didn’t leave for America eventually went into open rebellion against the ABC and the king, with Parliament as their champion. Now not every bishop, even under Charles, was a High Churchman, but the episcopate as a whole was blamed for the trouble Charles caused. When Charles had the Prayer Book revised in a High Church direction, he decided to try it out in Scotland first, and people there hated it so much they burned every copy they could get their hands on. Charles sent an army to Scotland to force them to use it, the Scots took up arms to prevent that, and the resulting war was immediately given the name by which it is still known, the Bishops’ War.

Before long there was war in England too, and the upshot was that the king was beheaded, the ABC was beheaded, and Parliament voted both monarchy and episcopate out of existence. For about twenty years England was a republic and the Church of England had no bishops.

Both monarchy and episcopate were restored, still unreformed, in 1660, and in 1662 we got a Prayer Book that for the first time made episcopal ordination a denominational issue; prior to this people ordained in the English church were ordained by bishops, but those ordained in other churches in other ways who transferred to the Church of England were accepted as they were; after 1662 they had to be re-ordained, or, as the High Church types would put it, ordained. The 1662 Act of Uniformity even forbade people to speak or write publicly about reform of the episcopate.

The two sons of the beheaded Charles took different approaches to church matters; Charles II began by appointing bishops who would exercise their episcopate moderately, but during the second half of his reign began to favor the High Church types, so about half of the restored episcopate had learned the lesson that it was better to give people a voice in the church, while the other half continued to uphold an absolutist episcopate, and an absolutist monarchy. Charles resisted the temptation; James, his brother, who became king in 1685, did not, and within three years of becoming king aroused so much opposition there was what is still called the Glorious Revolution, in which not a drop of blood was shed because when the people rose up and invited a new king to take over, and the new king arrived with an army of 50,000, James ran away instead of rallying his supporters. From that point on, the monarchy began to be reformed, until we have the limited, constitutional monarchy that England enjoys today. The absolutist bishops refused to accept the new king and were deprived, becoming what was called the non-juror movement, which left the episcopate open to the appointment of the mix of moderates and reformers which characterised the constitutional monarchy’s governorship of the church for quite some time.

We don’t have to take the history of the Church of England any further; by this time tens if not hundreds of thousands of its members had gone to America, and taken their memories of the episcopate with them, hence the continued opposition to any American episcopate right up to the American revolution. And hence the extremely delicate situation in which people who wanted to keep some sort of Anglican church alive after 1776!

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