If you know the enemy and know yourself,
you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.
If you know yourself but not your enemy,
for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.
If you know neither the enemy nor yourself,
you will succumb in every battle.
In deference to the philosophy thus expressed, what I propose to do in this and succeeding posts is to describe the current enemy of those who, like me, grew up in the Episcopal church in our youth and now can scarcely recognize what it is to which we in name, at any rate, "belong." (If you cannot accept the term "enemy" as descriptive, then you will learn nothing of use to you here. I suggest that you go to Mark Harris' website, because he does about as good a job as is possible to represent what TEC is doing today.)
But this series of posts is not just for those of us who grew up in the Episcopal church. (Notice, please, the lack of capitals. When I write "the Episcopal church", with only one capital letter, I mean to designate the historical church in which those of us who go back that far received our religious training and education. When I wish to refer to the so-called "Episcopal Church" as it is currently led and governed, I will always use capitals, thus: "The Episcopal Church", or just "TEC".) It is intended for all those who would seek to understand just what TEC is, how it became that way, and what, if anything, can be done about it.
The regrettable truth of this series of posts is that those who govern The Episcopal Church are now the avowed enemy of all those who seek to respect and honor its traditions. Under their leadership and direction, it has become, to be blunt, an apostate Church. And in light of Sun Tzu's maxim, it were well that we who still identify ourselves with the traditions of the old Episcopal church---whether we remain in it or not---should "know the enemy."
So, here we go. What now calls itself The Episcopal Church started out in America as a branch of the Church of England located specifically in Jamestown, Virginia, following the settlement established there in 1607. The settlers were English, and they brought with them the traditions and rites of the Church of England.
In succeeding years, representatives of other sects in Europe landed in America and founded their own churches. But the "Church of England" established itself thoroughly in Virginia and Maryland, before spreading to other colonies who were likewise settled by emigrants from England. Because it was the "established", or State, church in England, it likewise became the official church in Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and the lower four counties of New York. Additional "Anglican" churches were established in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and Pennsylvania (but were not recognized as State churches in those colonies), so that by 1700, there were more than a hundred such parishes in toto whose property was part of the Church of England in the colonies.
At no time, throughout its 170-year colonial period, did the Church of England seek to establish an episcopate in America. Instead, the Bishop of London was acknowledged as the titular ecclesiastical authority of the colonial Anglican churches, even though the actual authority he exercised over individual parishes was minimal. (The Bishop, through an appointed Commissary, established an ecclesiastical court for the disciplining of clergy in Virginia in 1727. However, the appointment ended with the death of that Bishop in 1748, and his successor refused to renew the authority. The result was, as one historian states, that "[a] rector of a parish, no matter how vile a habit he fell into, could not be tried and forced out by a civil court.") Most of the church-planting in the colonies outside of Virginia, Maryland and the Carolinas occurred as a result of the efforts of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts ("SPG"), founded in London in 1701.
The Revolutionary War changed all this. The "Anglican Church" in America went into limbo---as an established church, it had no self-governing structure, but the State legislatures quickly moved to abolish the taxes that supported it, and left the rectors to survive on their own, from what they could produce on their glebes, and collect from their parishioners. Hundreds of clergy, loyal to the Church and their King, left for places like Nova Scotia, or returned to England. Those remaining began to consider what independence would mean for the Church. In Maryland on November 9, 1780, there was a conference attended by three clergy and twenty-four laity, at which it was resolved that "the Church formerly known in the Province as the Church of England should now be called the Protestant Episcopal Church." However, the clergy and the laity by themselves were powerless to effect change. It took another act of the respective legislatures first to disestablish the Church as a State Church, and then to give it the right to organize on its own. (As one example, the Anglican Church of Virginia was finally disestablished, and the "Protestant Episcopal Church of Virginia" was incorporated, by two separate acts of the Virginia legislature in December 1784. Its properties had earlier been recognized as belonging to it by virtue of the Revolution, but a combination of Baptists and French-Revolution-admiring deists, who came to power in the Legislature in 1799, and again in 1802, voted to seize and sell all those properties---including prayer books, altar furnishings, Bibles and parish records! The Episcopal Church of Virginia went into a state of dormancy from which it did not recover for many years, while in the other States the Churches escaped a similar fate.)
With no Church of England in the colonies any more, there were also no bishops with jurisdiction. Because the Bishop of London had been such a distant figure, the Anglican churches in the colonies had grown accustomed to existing under their own authority for almost two hundred years. After the Revolution, bishops were identified in the popular mind as agents of the overthrown King, and there was considerable resistance among the laity to creating any. The first step to establish an episcopal authority in the new republic came soon after the victory in Yorktown in 1783, when ten of the (still Anglican loyalist) clergy in Connecticut met in secret to elect Samuel Seabury, who had served as a chaplain to the British troops, as their bishop (he was not their first, but second, choice). However, Seabury could not be consecrated by bishops of the Church of England because of an Act of Parliament which required that all bishops consecrated in England swear an oath of loyalty to the Crown. After waiting a year for the laws to be changed, he went to Scotland, where in November 1784 three non-juring bishops (who required no oath of loyalty to the Crown) agreed to consecrate him.
Meanwhile, the various Episcopal churches in several States organized dioceses and sent their elected representatives to a convention called in 1785 to establish a new national Church. One Church historiographer, the Rev. G. MacLaren Brydon, describes the result as follows:
The Anglican Church had grown strong in America without the presence of Bishops. And, as dioceses organized in the several States, it was very clearly shown that they desired to conserve, in their new life as a national church, all the methods and ways of procedure which had made their Church strong. For that reason, before there was a Bishop in America (except Bishop Samuel Seabury of Scottish consecration), the dioceses and their newly organized General Convention established a government in which representatives of the laity became a component part of all legislation concerning the doctrine, discipline and worship of their Church. They gave also to the Order of the Laity the right to elect the rectors of their parishes, and to take as full a share as the clergy in the election of their Bishops.That is the one great distinctive feature of The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, and it has proven a tremendously important step forward in the development of the Anglican Communion throughout the world.. . .It is historic fact that in both Maryland and Virginia the clergy assembled and asked that the organization of the Diocese and the election of their Bishops be placed in the hands of the clergy. And in both Maryland and Virginia the legislature of the State answered with an emphatic NO. In each State the Episcopal Church was organized by the legislature, through acts of incorporation which gave to the laity all of the powers that they had learned to use during the Colonial period. This became also the rule of General Convention, adopted for the whole national Church.
Following further appeals not to lose the "Anglican" churches in America, Parliament enabled the Church of England to consecrate other foreign bishops without the necessity of their swearing allegiance to the Crown. The newly established General Convention, having consulted with the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and having received their approval to the procedure, ratified the elections of William White in Pennsylvania, Samuel Provoost in New York, and David Griffith in Virginia to be bishops, and gave them their credentials to present to the Archbishops for consecration. Griffith, however, was unable to come up with the funds to go to England, and so the other two were consecrated there without him in 1785. (The importance which the Church of England placed on these consecrations may be seen from the fact that both English Archbishops participated in the laying on of hands, together with the Bishops of Bath and Wells and of Peterborough.)
This gave America a total of three bishops (counting Seabury), sufficient to consecrate all further successors, but there was political opposition in England to her relying on Seabury's Scottish consecration, and in addition Bishop Provoost (who at one point had borne arms against the British) despised Bishop Seabury for his loyalist past, so Griffith was not consecrated by his colleagues. An episcopal stalemate ensued while everyone waited on Virginia to send its candidate to England.
Conditions under the Articles of Confederation were not conducive to monetary stability, and after waiting three more years, Griffith still had been unable to raise the necessary funds to purchase his passage. At the General Convention of the Church in Philadelphia in 1789, he resigned his election, and died shortly thereafter. After the United States Constitution came into effect later that year, the monetary base stabilized under the new national government, with the brilliant Alexander Hamilton as the first Secretary of the Treasury. In May 1790, Virginia elected as its bishop the Rev. James Madison, president of William and Mary College and a second cousin of the future fourth President of the United States; he was consecrated in England the following September.
America's first bishop to be consecrated on its own soil was the Rt. Rev. Thomas J. Claggett, elected from Maryland in 1792. (For the occasion, which was the second triennial gathering of General Convention in New York under the new Episcopal Constitution adopted in 1789, Bishop Provoost managed to bury the hatchet, and deigned to join the ceremony along with Bishop Seabury.) Ever since, the Episcopal church in America has been on its own with regard to consecrations of bishops, and virtually all of its clergy trace a dual line of apostolic succession: from the Church of England via Bishops White, Provoost, Madison, and Claggett, and from the Church of Scotland via Bishops Seabury and (again) Claggett.
As noted above, the various State dioceses met first together in 1785, but some of the representatives still lacked authority to commit to anything on behalf of the Church in their States. They met again in 1786 and adopted a tentative Constitution which they proposed for final approval at the next triennial meeting scheduled for 1789. Problems continued in that the New England states, led by Bishop Seabury, held back from attending; the Bishop took offense at an entry in the minutes of the 1786 convention which to him appeared to question the validity of his consecration. At the meeting in August 1789, the Convention adopted unanimously a resolution affirming the validity of Bishop Seabury's consecration, and adjourned until the end of September to meet with representatives from the New England States, including Bishop Seabury, for the purpose of agreeing on a permanent Constitution.
Drafted by lawyers well versed in their art, as Mark McCall demonstrates, the Constitution was deliberately framed to maintain the independence and autonomy of each separate diocese, organized within the boundaries of each of the thirteen original States. (An early version, incorporating the mostly minor changes made through 1823, can be viewed online here.)
Article I of the 1789 Constitution establishes a General Convention, which is to meet every three years. Article II provides for a vote in General Convention by orders, and then adds this provision:
And if, through the neglect of the Convention or any of the Churches which shall have adopted, or may hereafter adopt this Constitution, no deputies, either lay or clerical, should attend at any General Convention, the Church in such State shall nevertheless be bound by the acts of such Convention.
Church historians such as Dr. Joan Gundersen have contended that this provision of the 1789 Constitution functions as a sort of Supremacy Clause, making dioceses subject to whatever canons are passed in General Convention. Such a statement, however, confuses a rule of applicability with a rule of priority. (For details, see Mr. McCall's response to Dr. Gundersen.) The language in any event was dropped from the Constitution in the comprehensive revision of 1901, "presumably," say Church constitutional authorities Messrs. White & Dykman, "because the time when it had any useful application had long since passed."
Article III of the first Constitution, as adopted in October 1789 and providing for a "House of Bishops" to meet whenever "three or more" could assemble, was the result of a compromise between the States which had theretofore met, led by Bishop William White, and the New England States, led by Bishop Seabury. The latter had objected to making the House of Bishops a "house of revision" only, with no power to originate legislation, and they also wanted the House of Bishops to have the power to veto legislation passed by the House of Deputies. The compromise struck was to give the Bishops the right to originate legislation, and to require a four-fifths vote by the House of Deputies to override any veto by the House of Bishops. (In 1808, this requirement was deleted, and the language changed to read as in the online version linked earlier, by which the Bishops had three days within which to object to an act by the Deputies, "and in failure thereof, it shall have the operation of a law.")
Article IV of the 1789 Constitution provided that Bishops were to be elected in each State "agreeably to such rules as shall be fixed by the Convention of that State," and continued: "every Bishop of this Church shall confine the exercise of his Episcopal office to his proper diocese or district, unless requested to ordain, or confirm, or perform any other act of the Episcopal office, by any Church destitute of a Bishop."
Article V provided for new members: "A Protestant Episcopal Church in any of the United States, not now represented, may, at any time hereafter, be admitted, on acceding to this Constitution." Article VI provided for the trial of clergy and bishops in accordance with rules adopted by each State, and Article VII set forth the requirements for ordination, including a subscription to the following oath: "I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be the word of God, and to contain all things necessary for salvation: and I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrines and worship of the Protestant Episcopal Church in these United States."
Article VIII made provision for the adoption of a Book of Common Prayer, and Article IX specified that Constitutional amendments would require passage at two successive triennial conventions. And that was it---that was the Constitution of the Protestant Episcopal Church that served it (with very few subsequent changes, apart from the manner of forming new dioceses provided in Article V) for the first 112 years of its existence. (To see the subsequent changes, take a look at this online version of the Constitution as it existed in 1878.)
We are now in a position to ask: just what form of organization was created upon adoption of the Constitution in Philadelphia in 1789? Under the common law existing at the time, there was formed what was known as an "unincorporated association of Churches in the several States organized into dioceses." That is, the various Episcopal Churches of each separate State came together and associated in a body called General Convention, which met once every three years, and to which they elected their respective deputies. Such an association was completely voluntary, and under the common law of associations, members were free to join or depart as they chose, at any time. Upon the outbreak of the Civil War, the Southern dioceses did depart, in order to form a new unincorporated association known as the "Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America." When that association broke up after the South's defeat, the dioceses who had been its members (with one exception---the Confederate diocese of Arkansas reverted to a missionary district status for a while) rejoined the association of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. These acts of joining and leaving, and joining again, are perfectly illustrative of the voluntary nature of an unincorporated association.
I am not being partisan, or legally biased, in setting out this view. I admit that it runs greatly at odds with the view of those who contend that membership in The Episcopal Church is permanent and unalterable, or as the saying has it, "People can leave the Church, but not dioceses or parishes." Since there was no issue made of the departures in 1861, one has to wonder what has changed in the interim that would make a diocese's departure the subject of a legal contest now. As another author puts it:
Although claims are often made , for example, that the Constitution of the Episcopal Church is "modeled" on that of the United States, in fact it is less like the Constitution than like the Articles of Confederation. Dioceses accede to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, and in so doing align themselves with General Convention, but in theory any diocese may withdraw from this union. Today there would probably be legal challenges, particularly regarding property rights, the relative success or failure of which would likely be determined by secular courts on a case-by-case basis. Nevertheless, the 1998 Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Communion's bishops again reaffirmed the integrity of diocesan boundaries, hence the centrality of the diocese to the church's characteristic "disbursed authority."
(William H. Swatos, Jr., "A Primacy of Systems", p. 203, in D. Roozen and J. Nieman, eds., Church, Identity and Change [Grand Rapids, Michigan/Cambridge, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2005] [footnotes omitted]. In one of the footnotes I have omitted, Swatos points out that the phrase "disbursed authority" comes from an address to the 1998 Lambeth Conference by one of the Anglican Communion's most distinguished experts on canon law, Edward Norman [who expanded on the lecture in his book, Anglican Difficulties: a New Syllabus of Errors].)
This completes my survey of the nature of The Episcopal Church as determined by its beginnings. In subsequent posts in this series, I will examine more of its structure and polity, with a view to tracing the enormous recent accretions of power in the office of the Presiding Bishop.