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Connecticut and Bishop Seabury: A Memorial Essay.

By James Aaron Bolles.

Cleveland: Williams Pub. Co., 1890.

The last meeting of our Clericus was held on a very memorable day, November 14, 1889, the one hundred and fifth anniversary of the consecration of Samuel Seabury as Bishop of Connecticut, and the first Bishop of the American Church; and hence you then requested me to prepare for our next meeting a paper or essay commemorative of the event and of that illustrious Bishop.

Strange to say, that during the same week, a congress, so-called, of Roman Catholic laymen, assembled in Baltimore to celebrate what they called "the one hundredth anniversary of the establishment of the American Hierarchy," or in other words, not the consecration of the Hierarch or Bishop, but the establishment, by the Papal bull, of the See of Baltimore. The Hierarch or Bishop of that See, John Carroll, was consecrated August 15, 1790, by a single Bishop, assisted by two priests, in the private chapel of an English Roman Catholic; and in a recent Churchman, a most [3/4] remarkable document is published by the Bishop of Iowa, entitled “The Authority of his Holiness, Pope Pius VI., constituting the new See of Baltimore in Maryland.” In this document, all the old canon-laws requiring the presence of three Bishops for the consecration of a Bishop, are abrogated, and the supreme will and power of the Pope are maintained. No wonder that the intelligent laymen of the Roman Catholic Church, having discovered the weakness of their organization in this country, as a branch of the Church Catholic, should go back to the discovery of America and base their authority upon the exploits of such an adventurous navigator as Christopher Columbus, rather than upon the authority of such a Bishop as Carroll, however good and pious, but not canonically consecrated, and not consecrated at all until after the consecrations of Seabury, White and Provoost, by the Bishops of Scotland and England. Nay, more, as well might it be pretended that the discoverer of a planet had established the Church in that planet by his discovery, as that such was the blessed work of the discoverer of this new continent. What an idea, and how ridiculous! All this is only incidental, and I now come to


In the Seabury family one fact stands out peculiar, and in this country absolutely alone, viz., that of five [4/5] successive generations each one has furnished a clergyman to the Church. The father of the Bishop, having the same Christian name, a graduate of Harvard college and a man of distinguished learning, was a Congregational minister. But in the memorable controversy which occurred between the president, professors and trustees of Yale college, to which I shall have occasion to refer, Mr. Seabury was convinced of the invalidity of his orders, declared himself a convert to the doctrines of the Church of England, and in the year 1731 he crossed the ocean and was ordained both deacon and priest by the Bishop of London. His son Samuel, afterwards the Bishop, was then only a child about three years of age when his father was ordained. The Bishop’s youngest son, Charles, became a clergyman of the Church and succeeded his father as rector of St. James’ church, New London, Connecticut. The late Rev. Dr. Samuel Seabury, at one time editor of The Churchman, rector of the Church of the Annunciation, New York city, and Professor of Biblical Literature and Interpretation of Scripture in the General Theological Seminary, was a son of Charles and grandson of the Bishop, and his son is now the Rev. Dr. William J. Seabury, who succeeded his father as rector of the Church of the Annunciation.

[6] There can be no doubt that for the first establishment of the Church in Connecticut, we are more indebted to the earnest efforts of a devoted and zealous layman than to any other individual. I refer to the Honorable Caleb Heathcote, whose correspondence with the "Venerable Society for the Propagation of the Gospel" occupies a large part of the first volume of ‘Documentary History.’ This distinguished layman was the great-grandfather of the Rt. Rev. Dr. William Heathcote DeLancey, and also the great-grandfather of the Rt. Rev. Dr. Charles Pettit McIlvaine.

In 1705 Colonel Heathcote projected a visit to Connecticut with the Rev. Mr. Murison, the faithful missionary in Westchester county, New York; and in the ‘Documentary History’ there is a most remarkable letter upon the subject, illustrative of what an earnest and zealous layman may do for the Church. I quote from the conclusion of that letter as follows: "The chief end I have in this projection is to have the people of that government undeceived in their notions concerning our Church; there being, I believe, fifteen thousand in that colony who have never heard or scarce seen a Church of England minister; and I have the charity to believe that after having heard one of our ministers preach, they will not look upon our [6/7] Church to be such a monster as she is represented; and being convinced of some of the cheats, many of them may duly consider of the sin of schism. However, let the success be what it will, to me the duty is plain." From the same history I quote as follows: ‘Mr. Murison frequently crossed the border, holding services, preaching, baptizing and distributing, Prayer-books and devotional works. On these expeditions he was invariably accompanied by Colonel Heathcote. They rode on horseback, with their saddle-bags full of books, fully armed, as the colonel said, as in those tolerant times it was as much as a man’s life’ was worth to talk of the Church in Connecticut without the means of self defence."

O what a blessing if some of our distinguished Ohio laymen would accompany their missionaries on their missionary excursions, or would even condescend to travel with the Bishop in his visitations, always fully armed for every emergency!


At a time when the Church had scarcely any organized existence in Connecticut, not more than one of two missionary stations, an event occurred, almost miraculous, attesting always and, everywhere, the absolute necessity of a duly constituted ministry in the Church of God. Not less than seven of the most [7/8] distinguished and learned Congregational divines of New England, including the president of Yale college and some of the professors, had been moved by some unseen and irresistible influences, to examine into the question of the validity of their orders as ministers of Christ. These gentlemen met together in their private houses and in the library of Yale college. All the books upon the subject were thoroughly examined, and all their deliberations upon the subject were conducted with the most earnest prayers to God for His guidance and blessing. One of their number, the Rev. Dr. Johnson, afterwards president of King’s college, made the following touching record in his private journal: "I hoped when I was ordained, that I had sufficiently satisfied myself of the validity of Presbyterian ordination under my circumstances. But, alas! I have ever since had growing suspicions that it is not right, and that I am an usurper in the house of God, which sometimes, I must confess, fills my mind with a great deal of perplexity, and I know not what to do. My case is very unhappy. Oh, that I could either gain satisfaction, that I may lawfully proceed in the execution of the ministerial function, or that Providence would make my way plain for the obtaining of Episcopal orders! What course I shall take, I know not. Do Thou, O my God, direct my steps; lead and guide me and my friends in Thy way everlasting."

[9] At length, on the thirteenth of September, 1722, a public statement was made and signed by these men to the trustees of Yale college, expressing, as they said, "most reluctantly, that some of us doubt the validity and the rest are more fully persuaded of the invalidity of Presbyterian ordination in opposition to the Episcopal." The result of which plain and simple statement was such a storm of obloquy and abuse as has seldom been witnessed in the Christian world. All sorts of charges were made against them, as in a public document from Massachusetts, that "they had set up that vile, senseless, wretched whimsey of an uninterrupted succession; such as antichrist bath ordained; such as the paw of the beast hath laid upon them, that they pretend a succession from." In this extract we have only an outline of what was said, nor do I suppose it would be possible for any individual to describe the alarm, for on the recent celebration of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Yale College, President Woolsey referring to the event said: "I suppose that greater alarm would scarcely be awakened now, if the theological faculty of the college were to declare for the Church of Rome, avow their belief in Transubstantiation, and pray to the Virgin Mary."

But notwithstanding all the obloquy and abuse heaped upon these men, all the worldly perils and trials to [9/10] which they were subjected, scarcely less than those which were experienced by St. Paul and the Primitive Martyrs, absolutely renouncing every earthly honor and blessing, they went boldly and resolutely forward, "witnessing a good confession." Cutler, Johnson and Brown were the first to encounter the perils of an ocean voyage, to obtain a valid ordination—Brown never to return, but falling a victim to the small-pox in England. Then followed by a constant stream of devout and godly men from 1722 to 1785, a period of sixty-three years, one out of every five of whom sacrificed his life; when the Rev. Dr: Seabury landed upon our shores, having all the rights and powers of a duly consecrated Bishop in the Church of God. What an evidence that the question of a duly constituted ministry and a valid commission from Christ and His apostles is not one of mere ignorance and prejudice; not one which can be ridiculed and laughed into scorn by any accusations of popery; not one which any true and loyal and faithful member of Christ can possibly resist and refuse to consider and act upon as of vital importance and necessity. I hold up the example of these men as a warning, not alone to the multitude of self-constituted preachers, who never think of the validity of their commission and never make it a subject of earnest study and prayer, but also as a warning to ourselves of the horrible wickedness of amalgamating [10/11] the commission of Christ and pouring contempt upon that Divine authority with which God in mercy has been pleased to invest us as "the ministers and stewards of His mysteries." Nor can there be any doubt that the proverbial peace, harmony and prosperity of the Church in Connecticut is mainly owing to the fact, that in that Diocese, an apostolic ministry has been settled and maintained in its integrity.


It is not my intention in this paper to give even a sketch of the life of Bishop Seabury, which has been written by the Rev. Dr. Beardsley, and is one of the most interesting and important biographies I ever read. He was born on St. Andrew’s day, November 30, 1729, graduated at Yale college in the nineteenth year of his age, became a catechist, or, as we should say, lay reader, to assist his father in his missionary labors; was ordained deacon, and priest in England in 1753; labored as a missionary of the Propagation Society in New Jersey, Connecticut and New York until 1783, when he was elected Bishop, and went to England to obtain consecration; was consecrated by the Bishops of Scotland, November 14, 1784, when he returned to Connecticut, discharging the duties of his office until his death, February 25, 1796, so that his splendid Episcopate was of less than twelve years’ [11/12] duration, though he had been in the ministry of the Church a little more than forty-three years. Bishop Seabury was a very stout, robust and athletic man. His portrait in the library of Trinity, then Washington college, which I first saw in 1826, though in his Episcopal robes, reminded me much more of a military chieftain than of a Bishop; and one could almost fancy that such a man must have his hands upon the hilt of a sword. In personal appearance he differed altogether from Bishop White, whom I had the pleasure of seeing on two or three occasions, the last in 1832, when he, consecrated Bishops Smith, Hopkins, McIlvaine and Doane. And no wonder that he never walked the streets of Philadelphia without some manifestations of respect and reverence by all who met him, for considering his tall figure, his bowed head and his saintly face; he was in all respects a Bishop. My own feelings, as of all who, ever saw that good Bishop, have been expressed by Newman when he first gazed upon Keble:

“I saw thee once and awe-struck gazed
On form and face and air;
God’s living glory round thee blazed,
A Saint, a Saint was there."

How marvelous the providence-by which two such men, whose combined qualifications were so essential, should have been raised up to establish and organize [12/13] and lay the foundations of the Church in these United States! What was wanting in the one was supplied by the other, and both acting harmoniously together have performed a work which neither acting alone could possibly have accomplished.

No one can read the history of the various conventions held to organize the Church in this country after the Revolution, without the conviction that there was a time when its divine government by duly consecrated Bishops was on the very brink of destruction, as when it was proposed that the Episcopal office should be newly created by presbyters and lay-men, and then afterwards when a rule was adopted divesting all Bishops of their Ecclesiastical Authority. On this last subject Dr. Inglis wrote to Dr. White as follows: "When I first saw the regulation made on this head, I was astonished how any people, professing themselves members of an Episcopal Church, could think of degrading their Bishop in such a manner. No Episcopal power whatever is reserved for him but that of ordination and perhaps confirmation. He is only a member ex-officio of the Convention where he resides, but is not to take the chair or preside unless he is asked; whereas, such presidency is as essential to his character as ordination. St. Paul’s Bishop was to, receive and judge of accusations brought against presbyters, as hath been the case with Bishops ever [13/14] since. But your Bishop has nothing to do with such matters—the Convention, consisting mostly of laymen, is to receive and judge of accusations against him. In short, his barber may shave him in the morning, and in the afternoon vote him out of office."

Now, there can be no doubt that all these difficulties and dangers were averted and overcome by the prompt action of Connecticut in electing a Bishop and sending him to England or Scotland for consecration. The long residence of Dr. Seabury in England, fifteen months, asking in vain for consecration, brought to light the most horrible condition of Erastianism in our Mother Church which, had ever existed; as confessed by Bishop Wilberforce in his history of the American Church—a condition of absolute fear, on the part of her Bishops, to act for the extension of their sacred and spiritual office without the sanction of king and parliament. And although the necessity which compelled Dr. Seabury to go to Scotland for consecration was at first deplored, yet the result has manifested the same overruling and wonder-working Providence in our behalf; for not only did he there obtain “a free, valid, independent and purely Ecclesiastical Episcopacy,” in regard to which all questions of validity have long since been settled, but the English Bishops were awakened to a sense of their duty as Bishops, independent of the state, without which neither White nor [14/15] Provoost nor Madison could possibly have been consecrated in England-at least not without some worldly fetters; and then we have the great blessing of the union of divergent lines in the American succession. The blessing of this union has been fully unfolded in a remarkable discourse by the Rev. Dr. William Jones Seabury, from which I condense the following: First, "Had Bishop Seabury died before the three Bishops consecrated in England were ready to, perform their first consecration in this country, we should indeed have had the Episcopal succession, but we should have been deprived of the happiness of tracing it through those who had lived to show to the world the possibility of maintaining the succession without the help of the establishment, and in spite of tyrannical efforts to stamp it out of existence." And secondly, “We should not have had the privilege of showing the concentration of several lines, sometimes separated, but now in our succession united, and thus of symbolizing the true purpose and motive of the Episcopate as the divinely appointed centre of unity in the Church of Christ; and the unfailing truth of the promise of the Founder of that Church, that the gates of hell should not prevail against it, and that He would be with its Apostolic ministry alway even unto the end of the world."

But not alone for the Apostolic succession and its [15/16] blended harmonies are we indebted, under God, to Bishop Seabury, but for the establishment of diocesan Episcopacy, on the primitive model, and for the separate existence of the House of Bishops as an independent body, not representing the clergy and laity as does the House of Clerical and Lay Deputies, but representing themselves as Bishops in the Church of God, divinely constituted to govern and control and execute the Apostolic commission. Upon this subject I have no time to enlarge and explain. But it is a fact that at one time our colonial fathers were in favor of a kind of perambulating Methodistical Episcopacy; and, strange to say, even after the consecration of Bishops White and Provoost, the House of Bishops had no other existence than as a part and parcel of the General Convention, not differing in authority from the House of Clerical and Lay Deputies. In all these respects; however, the resolute action of Connecticut in organizing herself into a Diocese, and the bold conduct of Bishop Seabury in refusing to attend a convention in which his office was not properly recognized, brought about a change, and produced the churchly organization which we now possess.


But of all the events in which the influence of Bishop Seabury was the most important and conspicuous, [16/17] must be reckoned the changes and alterations in the Book of Common Prayer. On the day after his consecration, not before, and therefore not as a condition of consecration, a Concordate or bond of union was formed "between the Catholic remainder of the ancient Church of Scotland and the now rising Church in the State of Connecticut," which was signed by the consecrating Bishops and by Bishop Seabury. The whole of this document might well be printed and circulated as an invaluable tract, proclaiming and defending the fundamental principles and doctrines of the Catholic Church of Christ. But the fifth article, is as follows: "As the celebration of the Holy Eucharist or the administration of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, is the principal bond of union among Christians, as well as the most solemn act of worship in the Christian Church, the Bishops aforesaid agree in desiring that there may be as little variance here as possible. And though the Scottish Bishops are very far from prescribing to their brethren in this matter, they cannot help ardently wishing that Bishop Seabury would endeavor all he can, consistently with peace and prudence, to make the celebration of this venerable Mystery conformable to the most primitive doctrine and practice in this respect; which is the pattern the Church of Scotland has copied after in her Communion office, and which it has been the [17/18] wish of some of the most eminent divines of the Church of England, that she also had more closely followed than she seems to have done since she gave up her first Reformed Liturgy, used in the reign of King Edward VI.; between which and the form used in the Church of Scotland, there is no difference in any point which the primitive Church reckoned essential to the right ministration of the Holy Eucharist."

Then no sooner had Bishop Seabury returned from Europe and been received as the Bishop of Connecticut, than, in accordance with the Concordate, he published a "Form for the administration of the Holy Eucharist or Supper of the Lord;" and I hesitate not to say that in some respects it is much better than the one we now possess; for "the prayer for the whole state of Christ’s Church"—not Christ’s Church Militant—is put in its proper place, after the consecration of the elements, and was commemorative both of the living and the dead, as in the English book of 1549; and the "prayer of humble access" was in its right place, after the comfortable words and just before the partaking of the elements. However, the publication of this form undoubtedly prepared the way for the present most important and essential enrichment of our book as compared with that of the Church of England, viz., the addition of the oblation and invocation. By the patient study of the present Bishop of Connecticut, [18/19] our presiding Bishop, a strange and most important fact has been brought to light and published in "The American Church Review" for July, 1882, under the head of "The Scottish Communion Office. All the primitive liturgies are examined; in every one, the oblation and invocation prayers are essential to the full consecration of the elements, and the only changes and omissions have been made by the Roman Church, because of their inconsistency with the dogma of Transubstantiation. Of course, in this paper, I have no time to give even an outline of the article by Bishop Williams, but I commend it to the attention of my brethren of the clergy. The Bishop concludes his article as follows:

"How it came from Scotland to us and was incorporated in our Prayer-book in 1789, does not need to be told. It is scarcely too much to say, that in giving it to as, Scotland gave us a greater boon than when she gave us the Episcopate. That, we might have obtained, and as events proved, should have obtained from England. But this, England had not to give us. As in the Scottish liturgy, so in ours; it stands—to use the words of Bishop Torrey—as ‘the direct and unanswerable antagonist of Popery,’ and we may add of Zwinglianism also.”

What other changes were made, or what else was done in our Prayer-book by the influence of Bishop [19/20] Seabury and the Connecticut clergy, it is impossible to state; though if we had the "Proposed Book,” which was prepared not by Bishop White, as is supposed, but by the eccentric Dr. William Smith, we might be able to judge. That book I have never seen, though it was republished in 1873, in the interests of the Cummings Schism. From letters about it we judge that it was framed upon the idea of pleasing everybody, as far as possible, and hence that it was not so positive and definite as such a book ought to be; as in changing one of the articles of the Apostles’ creed, the omission of the Nicene creed, the sign of the cross, and a general letting down of the Church’s faith on baptism and confirmation, in all of which the influence of dear old Connecticut may have rescued bus from error.


But in one respect, Connecticut has gone back upon herself; for of all the matters connected, not with the faith, but with the organization of the Church in this country, the title, Protestant Episcopal, was the most repugnant and distasteful to all their ideas of the Church. Whether they made any fuss about it at the General Convention of 1789 when it was adopted, I do not know. Possibly they may have thought that the other Prayer-book subjects were of more importance. But that they were utterly opposed to it there can be [20/21] no doubt. For the most representative man in Connecticut was the venerable Dr. Leaming, first chosen Bishop in preference to Seabury, and more reverenced and respected, as a Churchman, than even the consecrated Samuel. Now that venerable man, as far back as 1786, wrote a letter to Dr. Beach, objecting to that title, and expressing exactly what has been the result of its adoption. From that letter please let me quote as follows: "There is another thing your General Convention ought to take into consideration, which is this, the style they have given to the Church, which is this, ‘The Protestant Episcopal Church.’ The Church of England is not called a Protestant Church, but a Reform Church; they never entered any protest against the civil powers; they reformed as a nation; it never had the title of Protestant given to it by any sensible writer, unless he was a Scotchman. "It will be a great pity that we should commit any blunder of this sort at first setting out, for posterity to laugh at after we are forgotten for everything but the mistakes we have committed and left behind as monuments that we wanted proper sagacity. Perhaps this may be little thought of, but if we commit any mistakes now we must bear the blame forever." Such were the sentiments of old Dr. Leaming more than a hundred years ago, expressing, no doubt, the thoughts and feelings of the Bishops and clergy of [21/22] Connecticut—not the ideas and fancies of a few Ritualistic young men just come into existence. And yet when the delegation from the Diocese of Connecticut might have celebrated the Centennial of that noble letter in the General Convention of 1886, by voting in favor of the removal of that stigma from our escutcheon, what did they do? Alas! Alas! To my utter surprise, every man of them, including the able author of ‘The Life of Bishop Seabury,’ in which Dr. Leaming’s letter is contained, responded in the negative of change! No! No! No! No! Can it be possible? "O what a fall was there, my countrymen!" My beloved Connecticut! In which Diocese I was born, and born again as an adult in Baptism. In which I had my collegiate education and became a candidate for orders, and was ordained to the diaconate by the now sainted Brownell! O what a fall!

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