Project Canterbury

Authority in the Anglican Communion

By Edward Nason West

A paper prepared at the request of the Anglican Society, delivered to the Society's 1975 Annual Meeting, and circulated by decision of that meeting to all Bishops of the Episcopal Church, and all Deputies to the 1976 General Convention.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Retired Bishop of Malaita, 2009

TO: Recipients of the paper, "Authority in the Anglican Communion"
FROM: The President of the Anglican Society, the Rt. Rev. J. Stuart Wetmore
RE: The purpose of this distribution

In common with almost all Societies and individuals in the Church, the Anglican Society is concerned at the extent to which indifference to authority, and the outright ignoring of authority, is now rampant in the Church.

The 1976 Convention in Minnesota will have the question of authority before it in a great many issues, but particularly in Prayer Book Revision, the Ordination of Women to the Priesthood and Episcopacy itself.

We stand, I believe, on a precipice where Canons are considered an option and duly established leadership is ignored or blatantly disobeyed. At the foot of that precipice already lies much wreckage. The Episcopal Church could join the debris if we cannot reestablish the pattern of authority in the Church. Canon West's paper, we believe, if properly studied and discussed, can be constructive in the process of a return to authority as this Church understands the same. The Anglican Society is grateful to Canon West for his careful response to their request.

Canon West has served the Church in the Diocese of New York, and particularly its Cathedral of St. John the Divine, with great distinction, and on two occasions has represented the Diocese at General Conventions.


[1] One of the manifest weaknesses of my mind is my general inability to understand St. Paul. On those rare occasions when I do understand him, it usually turns out that what I understand is not what he meant, or that, according to the best scholars, he didn't write it. Not least of which strikes me the worst in his handling of exousia. Given his mind the word can mean authority, power, jurisdiction or liberty (privilege); this is all very clear, but when he uses it to describe a woman's head-gear, I lapse into my customary confusion. [I Corinthians 11:10] This confusion, however, is as nothing compared to that encountered in the search for an Anglican definition of exousia. Anglicans simply don't think in terms of authority. Bettenson's summary on the subject of Anglican uniformity is most apt: "it must not be supposed that the term (Anglicanism) denotes one fixed and accepted body of beliefs--apart from the acceptance of the Church's doctrine contained in the English formularies; Anglicanism is more a loyalty than a doctrinal position." [Henry Bettenson, ed., Documents of the Christian Church, Oxford University Press, 1947, p. 412.]

The next question is: What is accepted, and to what is this body of Christians loyal?

Jeremy Taylor, in upholding the Church of England, wrote:

"What can be supposed wanting in order to salvation? We have the Word of God, the Faith of the Apostles, the Creeds of the Primitive Church, the Articles of the four first General Councils, a holy liturgy, excellent prayers, perfect Sacraments, faith and repentance, the Ten Commandments, and the sermons of Christ, and all the precepts and counsels of the Gospel. We teach the necessity of good works, and require and strictly exact the severity of a holy life. We live in obedience to God, and are ready to die for Him, and do so when He requires us so to do. We speak honorably of His most Holy Name. We worship Him at the mention of His Name. We confess His attributes. We love His servants. We pray for all men. We love all Christians, even our most erring brethren. We confess our sins to God and to our brethren whom we have offended, and to God's ministers in cases of scandal or of a troubled conscience. We communicate often. We are enjoined to receive the Holy Sacrament thrice every year at least. Our priests absolve the penitent. Our Bishops ordain priests, and confirm baptized persons, and bless their people and intercede for them. And what could there be wanting to salvation?" [pp. 412 and 413.]

The Lambeth Conference of 1920, in its thoughtful letter "To All Christian People," had this to say:

"The vision which rises before us is that of a Church genuinely Catholic, loyal to all Truth, and gathering into its fellowship all who profess and call themselves Christians, within whose visible unity all the treasures of faith and order, bequeathed as a heritage by the past to the present, shall be possessed in common and made serviceable to the whole Body of Christ. Within this unity Christian Communions now separated from one another would retain much that has long been distinctive in their methods of worship and service. It is through [1/2] a rich diversity of life and devotion that the unity of the whole fellowship will be fulfilled. . . .

"VI. We believe that the visible unity of the Church will be found to involve the whole-hearted acceptance of:

"The Holy Scriptures as the record of God's revelation of Himself to man, and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith; and the Creed commonly called Nicene, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith, and either it or the Apostles' Creed as the Baptismal confession of belief.

"The divinely instituted sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Communion, as expressing for all the corporate life of the whole fellowship, in and with Christ.

"A ministry acknowledged by every part of the Church as possessing not only the inward call of the Spirit but also the communion of Christ and the authority of the whole body.

"VII. May we not reasonably claim that the Episcopate is one of the means of providing such a ministry? It is not that we call in question for a moment the spiritual reality of the ministries of those Communions who do not possess the Episcopate. On the contrary, we thankfully acknowledge that these ministries have been manifestly blessed and owned by the Holy Spirit as effective means of grace. But we submit that considerations alike of history and of present experience justify the claim which we make on behalf of the Episcopate. Moreover, we would urge that it is now and will prove to be in the future the best instrument for maintaining the unity and continuity of the Church." [pp. 443 and 444 (from George Bell's "Documents on Christian Unity," 1920-1924).]

That this is the continuing pattern of Anglican thought may be illustrated by quotations from the great Caroline divines.

John Pearson, in the Ninth Article of his monumental work, "An Exposition of the Creed," notes:

"Many persons and Churches, howsoever distinguished by time or place, are considered as one Church because they acknowledge and receive the same Sacraments, the signs and badges of the people of God. When the Apostles were sent to found and build the Church, they received this commission, Go and teach all the nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Now as there is but one Lord, and one faith, so also there is but one Baptism; and consequently they which are admitted to it, in receiving it are one. Again, at the institution of the Lord's Supper, Christ commanded, saying, Eat ye all of this, Drink ye all of this; and all, by communicating of one, become as to that communication one. For we being many are one bread and one body; for we are all partakers of that one bread. As therefore the Israelites were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and did all eat the same spiritual meat, and did all drink the same spiritual drink, and thereby appeared to be the one people of God; so all believing persons, and all Churches congregate in the Name of Christ, washed in the same laver of regeneration, eating of the same bread, and drinking of the same cup, are united in the same cognizance, and so known to be the same Church. And this is the unity of the Sacraments. . . .

[3] "All the Churches of God are united into one by the unity of discipline and government, by virtue whereof the same Christ ruleth in them all. For they have all the same pastoral guides appointed, authorized, sanctified, and set apart by the appointment of God, by the direction of the Spirit, to direct and lead the people of God in the same way of eternal salvation. As therefore there is no Church where there is no order, no ministry, so where the same order and ministry is there is the same Church. And this is the unity of regiment and discipline."

The sure instinct of the Anglican leads to the trust in agreed-upon Liturgy, as over against the personal predilections of individuals. So, for example, John Selden, in his "Table Talk," could say:

"To know what was generally believed in all ages, the way is to consult the Liturgies, not any private man's writing. As if you would know how the Church of England serves God, go to the Common Prayer Book; consult not this or that man. Besides, Liturgies never compliment, nor use high expressions. The Fathers oft times speak oratoriously."

The passionate adherence to the Prayer Book is an evidence of this instinct. The brilliant Dominican, Father Tillard, writes:

"We do not have to examine here the particular nature of this knowledge of God springing from communion in friendship, from the intuition which the experience of the Spirit arouses. It will suffice for us to evoke, following the examples of many writers, the two main paths by which this knowledge is transmitted in a communal fashion, at a level thus going beyond the personal experience of each believer. The best known of these paths is that of the lex orandi lex credendi. And when the Anglican Church, for example, places the Prayer Book at the centre of its rule of faith it is in the direct line of the great Tradition. For the latter, prayer 'speaks faith,' but in a way which is poorly expressed in concepts; and which represents much more than a particular refinement to be attached to the Creed. It is a matter of affirmation sui generis of the certainty of faith, in and through a collective way of behaving which is made up of signs, allows free play to the senses and does not disdain the language of poetry and music. The act of worship, even when it consists more of gestures than of words, concerns the same truth as the confession of the baptismal creed. It proclaims it, however, in a language different from that of concepts which have a carefully refined content. And this goes very far. For example, it is admitted by many specialists in Christian origins that the lived experience of the first communities accounts for the formulae of the institution of the Eucharist passed down to us by the Gospel traditions. Certainty conveyed by acts and attitudes has preceded the certainty by the text. The truth has sprung forth by 'making itself.' This moreover is why the Church's eucharistic faith cannot, all the more so today, bind itself to a shortsighted interpretation of the texts." [J. M. R. Tillard, O. P., Sensus Fidelium, in "One in Christ," Vol. XI, No. 1.]

Parenthetically, our Standing Liturgical Commission would do well to work on a Preface which would assure our laity that this Church is still "far from intending to depart from the Church of England in any essential point of doctrine, discipline, or worship; [3/4] or further than local circumstances require."

No one, nowadays, argues against the superiority of the two Dominical sacraments as necessary for everybody in the Church, nor indeed, against the lesser sacraments as the Spirit's response to individual vocations within the Church. The Scriptures are now in languages available to nearly all Christians, and the greater numbers of scholars in all communions are very largely in agreement to their authorship and meaning.

The one thing left in the Quadrilateral is the matter of Apostolic Order, and in no thing (save their taste for stately prose) are Anglicans more recognizable than in their passionate adherence to episcopacy. This is no new development. John Gauden, in 1653, wrote an ode on episcopacy which in its opening section sounds rather like W. S. Gilbert's description of a heavy dragoon. (I append it for the reader's pleasure.) His sober judgement, however, is not to be passed over lightly.

"I would have him (the Bishop) most deserve and most able to use well, but yet least esteeming, coveting, or ambitionating, the riches, pomp, glory, and honour of the world. One that knows how to own himself in persecution as well as in prosperity, and dares to do his duty as a Bishop in both estates. I do not much consider the secular parade and equipage, further than as public encouragements of merit, as excitations to excel, as noble rewards of learning, and as extern decencies of solemnities which do much set off and embroider authority in the sight of the vulgar. I wish him duly chosen with judgement, accepting with modesty, esteemed with honour, reverenced with love, overseeing with vigilance, ruling with joint-counsel, not levelled with younger preachers and novices, not too much exalted above the graver and elder presbyters; neither despised of the one nor despising of the other. I wish him an honourable competency, if it may be had, with his eminency, that he may have wherewith to exercise a large heart and a liberal hand, which everywhere carry respect and conciliate love. If this cannot be had, yet I wish him that in true worth which is denied him in wealth; that his virtue and piety may still preserve the authority of his place, and this in the order, peace, and dignity of the Church; that he may be the touchstone of truth, the loadstone of love, the standard of faith, the pattern of holiness, the pillar of stability, and the centre of unity in the Church.

"I think nothing further from a true Bishop than idleness set off with pomp, than ignorance decked with solemnity, than pride blazoned with power, than covetousness gilded with empire, than sordidness smothered with state, than vanity dressed up with great formalities. Bishops should not be like blazing comets in their dioceses, having more of distance, terror, and pernicious influence than of light or celestial virtue. But rather, as fixed stars of the prime magnitude, shining most usefully and remarkably in the Church, during this night of Christ's absence. Who is the only Sun for His light and Spouse for his love to the Church. Yet hath He appointed some proxies to woo for Him, and messengers to convey love-tokens from Him, among whom the holy Bishops of the Church were ever [4/5] accounted as the chiefest Fathers next the Apostles, when they were indeed such as evil men most feared, good men most loved, schismatics most envied, and heretics most hated. Right Episcopacy is so great an advantage to the Church's happiness and so unblamable in its due constitution and exercise, that it is no small blemish to any godly man's judgement not to approve it; and nothing (as to imprudence) is I think more blameworthy than not to desire, esteem, love, and honour it. Since such Prelature is as lawful as it is useful, and it is useful as either reason or religion, polity or piety can propound in any thing of that nature which, if not absolutely necessary, yet certainly most convenient for the Church, and commendable in the Church, (so far as it stands in a visible polity and society,) being no way either sinful in itself or contrary to any positive law of God, any more than it is for Christians in civil government to have mayors in their cities, colonels in their armies, masters in their colleges, wardens in their fraternities, captains or pilots in their ships, or fathers in their families. . . .

"I find by the proportion of all polity and order, that if Episcopal eminency be not the main weight and carriage of ecclesiastical government, yet it is as the axis or wheel which puts the whole frame of Church society and communion into a fit order and aptitude for motion, especially in greater association of Christians which make the most firm and best constituted Churches." [More and Cross, Anglicanism, S. P. C. K., London, 1957, pp. 365-367.]

Yet this passion for episcopacy is not necessarily a passion for any exclusive version of it. The Preface to the Ordinal merely presents historic facts. The prayers ask for grace to preach the Word and administer the godly discipline thereof. The Offices of Instruction provide an exclusively functional definition. The one prayer in the Prayer Book mentioning Apostolic Succession [The Office of Institution (p. 572)] is concerned with the Ministry in general. One may regard bishops as the esse, the bene esse, or the plene esse (or simply as facts of life or, in deference to the Presiding Bishop, as "mysteries of God") and still be an absolutely loyal Anglican.

The problem is not the theory of Episcopacy, but, rather, the question of whether authority, in ordinary working terms, can be exercised by bishops in the American Church.

The nature of the Church is set forth in the Preamble to its Constitution:

The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, otherwise known as the Episcopal Church (which name is hereby recognized as also designating the Church), is a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, a Fellowship within the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, of those duly constituted Dioceses, Provinces, and regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer. This Constitution, adopted in General Convention in Philadelphia in October, 1789, as amended in subsequent General Conventions, sets forth the basic Articles for the government of this Church, and of its overseas missionary jurisdictions.

[6] This definition is amplified in Title III, Canon 17, Section 1.

(1) A person seeking to be ordained and consecrated a Bishop for a foreign land, within the purport of Article III of the Constitution, must present to the Presiding Bishop of this Church a statement in writing subscribed by him setting forth his name, and the date and place of his birth; his Ecclesiastical and Civil status; whether he is in Priest's Orders, and, if so, the time and place and Episcopal source of his admission thereto, and to the Diaconate; the fact of his election or appointment, by a body of Christian people in a foreign land, to be, when duly ordained and consecrated, their Bishop; the corporate name under which such body is or desires and intends to be known as a distinct part of the Catholic Church of Christ; and the land wherein and the civil government under which it claims and purposes to exercise its jurisdiction as such; that the position of this body of Christian people in the land wherein they dwell is such as to justify its distinct organization as a Church therein; that the members of that body will receive the person consecrated for them by the Episcopate of this Church as a true and lawful Chief Pastor, will suitably maintain him as such, and will render to him all due canonical obedience in the exercise of his proper Episcopal functions; that by the lawful authority recognized in the body applying through him for the Episcopate there has been prescribed for use in that body a Book of Offices containing the Creeds commonly called the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds, together with forms for the Administration of the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper, and Ordinal, an Office for the Administration of Confirmation by the Laying on of Hands, and an Order for the public reading of the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, in which Book the Faith and Order of the Church, as this Church hath received the same, are clearly set forth and established as the Faith and Order of the Church in which the Episcopate is as aforesaid desired to be settled and maintained; and that the person presenting himself for consecration is, in his life and teaching, in entire conformity with the principles of such Faith and Order, that he is not justly liable to evil report for error in religion or viciousness of life, and that he has no knowledge of any impediment on account of which he ought not to be consecrated to the Office of a Bishop.

It is frequently observed that Discipline receives only twenty-four pages worth of Canons, while Organization and Administration has thirty-three, and Ministry, fifty-three. (I omit Title II because the section on Worship authorizes 600 pages of the Book of Common Prayer--quite apart from Trial Uses.)

The Canons governing the laity are broad enough:

Sec. 1. All persons who have received the Sacrament of Holy Baptism with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and whose baptism has been duly recorded in this Church, are members thereof.

[7] Sec. 2. All baptized persons who shall for one year next preceding have fulfilled the requirements of the Canons, "Of the Due Celebration of Sundays," unless for good cause prevented, are members of this Church in good standing.

(The Canon mentioned reads: All persons within this Church shall celebrate and keep the Lord's Day, commonly called Sunday, by regular participation in the public worship of the Church, by hearing the Word of God read and taught, and by other acts of devotion and works of charity, using all godly and sober conversation.)

Sec. 3. All such members in good standing who have been confirmed by a Bishop of this Church or a Bishop of a Church in communion with this Church or have been received into this Church by a Bishop of this Church, and who shall, unless for good cause prevented, have received Holy Communion at least thrice during the next preceding year, are communicants in good standing.

Sec. 4. Every communicant or baptized member of this Church shall be entitled to equal rights and status in any Parish or Mission thereof. He shall not be excluded from the worship or Sacraments of the Church, nor from parochial membership, because of race, color, or ethnic origin.

The Discipline allows of only one form in the case of erring laymen--excommunication. The Canon insures that if there be such it will be in the ancient terms--out of communion with one's bishop.

Sec. 6. When a person to whom the Sacraments of the Church shall have been refused, or who has been repelled from the Holy Communion under the Rubrics, or who desires a judgment as to his status in the Church, shall lodge a complaint or application with the Bishop, or Ecclesiastical Authority, it shall be the duty of the Bishop, or Ecclesiastical Authority, unless he or it sees fit to require the person to be admitted or restored because of the insufficiency of the cause assigned by the Minister, to institute such an inquire as may be directed by the Canons of the Diocese, and should no such Canon exist, the Bishop or Ecclesiastical Authority shall proceed according to such principles of law and equity as will insure an impartial decision; but no Minister of this Church shall be required to admit to the Sacraments a person so refused or repelled, without the written direction of the Bishop or Ecclesiastical Authority.

Sec. 7(a). If any Minister of this Church shall have cause to think that a person desirous of Holy Baptism, or of Confirmation, or of receiving the Holy Communion, has been married otherwise than as the word of God and discipline of this Church allow, such Minister, before receiving such person to these ordinances, shall refer the case to the Bishop for his godly judgement thereupon. The Bishop, after due inquiry into the circumstances, and taking into consideration the godly discipline both of justice and of mercy, shall give his judgement thereon in writing; Provided, however, that no Minister shall in any case refuse these [7/8] ordinances to a penitent person in imminent danger of death.

The authority of a bishop is outlined in the duties of his office.

Canon 18. Of Duties of Bishops

Sec. 1. It shall be the duty of every Bishop of this Church to reside within the limits of his jurisdiction; nor shall he absent himself therefrom for more than three months without the consent of the Convention or the Standing Committee of the Diocese.

Sec. 2(a). Every Bishop shall visit the Congregations within his Diocese or Missionary District at least once in three years, for the purposes of examining their condition, inspecting the behavior of the Clergy, administering Confirmation, preaching the Word, and at his discretion celebration the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. At every visitation it shall be the duty of the Bishop to examine the records required by Canon III. 20, Section 3.

(b.) If a Bishop shall for three years have declined to visit a Parish or Congregation, the Minister and Vestry (or the Corporation), or the Bishop, may apply to the Presiding Bishop to appoint the five Bishops in charge of Dioceses who live nearest to the Diocese in which such Church or Congregation may be situated as a Council of Conciliation, who shall amicably determine all matters of difference between the parties, and each party shall conform to the decision of the Council in the premises; Provided, that in case of any subsequent trial of either party for failure to conform to such decision, any constitutional or canonical right of the defendant in the premises may be pleaded and established as a sufficient defense, notwithstanding such former decision; and, Provided, further, that in any case the Bishop may at any time apply for such Council of Conciliation.

(c.) Every Bishop shall keep a record of all his official acts, which record shall be the property of the Diocese, and shall be transmitted to his successor.

Sec. 3. Every Bishop shall deliver, from time to time at his discretion, a Charge to the Clergy of his Diocese or Missionary District, and may, from time to time, address to the people of his Diocese or Missionary District Pastoral Letters on points of Christian doctrine, worship, or manners, which he may require the Clergy to read to their Congregations.

Sec. 4. At every Annual Convention or Convocation the Bishop shall make a statement of the affairs of the Diocese or Missionary District since the last meeting of the Convention or Convocation; the number of persons confirmed; the names of the churches which he has visited; the names of those who have been received as Candidates for Holy Orders, and of those who have been ordained, and of those who have been by him suspended or deposed from the Ministry; the changes by death, removal, or otherwise, which have taken place among the Clergy; and all matters [8/9] tending to throw light upon the affairs of the Diocese or Missionary District; which statement shall be inserted in the Journal.

The parochial side of the Bishop's visitation, and some of the other directions governing the parochial clergy, may come as a bit of a shock.

Sec. 2(a). It shall be the duty of Ministers of this Church who have charge of Parishes or Cures to be diligent in instructing the children in the Catechism, and from time to time to examine them in the same publicly before the Congregation. They shall also, by stated catechetical lectures and instructions, inform the youth and others in the Holy Scriptures and the Doctrines, Polity, History, and Liturgy of the Church. They shall also instruct all persons in their Parishes and Cures concerning all the missionary work of the Church at home and abroad, and give suitable opportunities for offerings to maintain that work.

(b.) It shall be the duty of Ministers before baptizing infants or children to prepare the sponsors by instructing both the parents and the Godparents concerning the significance of Holy Baptism, the responsibilities of parents and Godparents and the Christian training of the baptized child, and how these obligations may be properly discharged.

(c.) It shall be the duty of Ministers to prepare young persons and others for Confirmation; and on notice being received from the Bishop of his intention to visit any church, which notice shall be at least one month before the intended visitation, the Minister shall announce the fact to the Congregation on the first Sunday after the receipt of such notice; and he shall be ready to present for Confirmation such persons as he shall judge to be qualified, and shall deliver to the Bishop a list of the names of those to be confirmed.

(d.) At every visitation it shall be the duty of the Minister, and of the Churchwardens, or Vestrymen, or of some other officer, to exhibit to the Bishop the Parish Register and to give information to him of the state of the Congregation, spiritual and temporal, under such heads as shall have been previously signified to them, in writing, by the Bishop.

Ecclesiastical Discipline is aimed at the clergy rather than at the laity. Consider the following:

Of Offenses, for which Bishops, Presbyters, or Deacons May Be Tried

Sec. 1. A Bishop, Presbyter, or Deacon of this Church shall be liable to presentment and trial for the following offenses, viz.:

(1) Crime or immorality.

(2) Holding and teaching publicly or privately and advisedly, any doctrine contrary to that held by this Church.

(3) Violation of the Rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer.

(4) Violation of the Constitution or Canons of the General Convention.

(5) Violation of the Constitution or Canons of the Diocese to which [9/10] he belongs.

(6) Any act which involves a violation of his Ordination vows.

(7) Habitual neglect of the exercise of his Ministerial Office, without cause; or habitual neglect of Public Worship, and of the Holy Communion, according to the order and use of this Church.

(8) Conduct unbecoming a Clergyman; Provided, however, that in the case of a Presbyter or Deacon charged with this offense, before proceeding to a presentment, the consent of three-fourths of all the members of the Standing Committee or Council of Advice of the Diocese or Missionary District in which the Presbyter or Deacon is canonically resident shall be required.

Upon a Presbyter or Deacon's being found guilty, such Presbyter or Deacon shall be admonished, or shall be suspended or deposed from the Sacred Ministry, as shall be adjudged by the Trial Court, except as provided in Canon IV. 12, Sec. 3 [It may be just as well that Canon XXXVII (of 1789) is no longer in the book. It reads: No ecclesiastical persons shall, other than for their honest necessities, resort to taverns, or other places most liable to be abused to licentiousness. Further, they shall not give themselves to any base or servile labor, or to drinking or to riot, or to the spending of their time idly. And if any offend in the above, they shall be liable to the ecclesiastical censure of admonition, or suspension, or degradation, as the nature of the case may require, and according to such rules or process as may be provided, either by the General Convention, or by the convention in the different States.]

(Think of No. 3. Si iniquitates observaveris, Domine: Domine, quis sustinebit?)

Bishops get more detailed treatment.

Sec. 2. A presentment of any Bishop under Canon IV. 1, Section 1, for holding and teaching publicly or privately and advisedly, any doctrine contrary to that held by this Church, shall be had only upon the presentment of any ten Bishops exercising jurisdiction in this Church. Every such presentment shall be filed with the Presiding Bishop, together with a brief in support thereof. The Presiding Bishop shall thereupon serve a copy upon the person charged, together with a copy of the supporting brief. He shall fix a date for the filing of an answer, and brief in support thereof, at least three months from the date of service, and may, at his discretion and for good cause, extend the time for answering. Upon the filing of an answer and supporting brief, if any, or upon the expiration of the time fixed for an answer, if none be filed, the Presiding Bishop shall forthwith transmit copies of the presentment, answer, and briefs to each member of the House of Bishops. The written consent of two-thirds of the Bishops qualified to vote in the House of Bishops shall be required before the proceeding may continue as provided by Canon. In case a two-thirds majority of all the Bishops entitled to act in the premises shall not consent within the period of three months from the date of notification to them by the Presiding Bishop of the proceeding, the Presiding Bishop shall declare the presentment dismissed.

Sec. 3. A Bishop may be charged with any one or more of the offenses specified in Canon IV. 1, other than that of holding and teaching doctrine contrary to that held by this Church, by three Bishops or ten or more male communicants of this Church in good standing, of whom at least two shall be Presbyters; one Presbyter and not less than six communicants shall belong to the Diocese of the accused, or, in case the accused have no jurisdiction, to the Diocese in which he has domicile. Such charges shall be in writing, signed by all the accusers, sworn to by two or more of them, and shall be presented to the Presiding Bishop of [10/11] the Church. The grounds of accusation must be set forth with reasonable certainty of time, place, and circumstance.

All of this, of course, has a long history and is the result of experience.

Francis L. Hawks, Rector of St. Thomas, New York, in 1841 produced the first serious study of the then-existing Constitution and Canons. Even at that date he recognized some of the problems which would face an institution which had no ultimate arbiter, such as the Supreme Court, to say what the Constitution and Canons really mean. He understood, as few have since his time, that Eighteenth Century men used the word "state" to mean a nation. He asks:

"In what attitude did the churches in the several States stand to each other, in entering on this work of once more uniting? The question is one of fact; and the testimony would seem to leave no doubt that in each State, the Church considered itself an integral part of the Church of Christ, perfectly independent, in its government, of any and every branch of the Church in Christendom. Such an opinion would the more readily be adopted, from the fact, that the several states considered themselves in their civil relations, as independent sovereignties, and as such, sought to find a bond of union, first in the Articles of Confederation, and afterward in the Federal Constitution. Many of those who were employed in laying the foundations of our civil polity, were also aiding by their councils in the establishment of our ecclesiastical system; and hence it is not surprising that there should be found not a few resemblances between them." [Francis L. Hawks, Contribution to the Ecclesiastic History of the United States of America (The Constitution and Canons of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States), Swords, Stanford & Co., New York, 1841, p. 4.]

It was due to Bishop Seabury that the House of Bishops was set up with power to originate and propose acts for the concurrence of the other House--in fact he constituted the House as a senate. Hawks understood that a well-done Constitution should not tolerate "fatal facilities" in making changes. One learns of a wise bishop's reasoning in a case regarding the excommunication of one person.

"1. The Church, in her laws relative to repelling from the communion, designs to guard against the endless mischiefs of allowing private quarrels or personal pique, to be a sufficient ground for the exercise of so solemn an act of discipline, as repelling from the communion.

"2. She especially does not design that her ministers shall wield at pleasure the spiritual powers committed to them, in cases of differences or disputes, in which themselves or families are parties.

"3. The repelled must be 'an open and notorious evil liver.' It is not sufficient that the minister charges him, upon his own knowledge, as he says, with calumny of himself and family, and with not meeting the minister's just pecuniary demands upon him. Common report and belief must charge him with being a slanderer, a liar, and a dishonest man.

"4. Whatever may have been his conduct toward the minister, and of which he complains, making it the basis of his charges, it must fairly [11/12] appear that 'the congregation is thereby offended.'" [p. 369.]

Hawks was the son of his age though. After noting many similarities with the civil establishment, he writes:

"It is not a little remarkable, that the Church, which was once in this country, identified in the minds of many, with the most odious tyranny over the minds and consciences of men, should now be seen to be not at all incompatible with a system of polity framed very much on the model of our free civil institutions.

"The dread in that day was of Bishops, and visions of the star chamber, perchance, haunted the over sensitive minds of men: but Bishops are, in themselves considered, quite as harmless as anybody else, and a great deal more useful than many who are thrown into a pious panic by the spectacle of lawn sleeves. Whether bishops are dangerous depends on the power given to them, or the chance afforded them of unlawfully acquiring power: but they are not necessarily alarming; and, fortunately, Episcopacy can as easily be accommodated to the free institutions of a republic, as to the system of a monarchy.

"We now proceed to notice some important particulars, in which a difference exists between our civil and ecclesiastical systems.

"The Constitution provides for a President of the United States, and his assent is necessary to make laws.

"We have no officer in the Church analogous to the President. We are without archbishop or metropolitan, nor do we need one. The nearest approach to any office like that of President, is very slight. We have 'a presiding bishop' in the House of Bishops; accident designates him, for it is always the bishop of senior consecration. His powers, too, are very few; and he has none which place him in point of official station above any other of the bishops. Thus, he presides in the House of Bishops, calls special meetings of the General Convention, when necessary; commonly is chief actor in consecrating bishops; and collects the opinions of the standing committees of the dioceses, in the case of a bishop elect, during the recess of the General Convention. These are nearly all his powers as presiding bishop. He has a voice in making laws, but not, like the President, as chief executive officer of the government. He makes them as a legislator simply, a member of one of the houses.

"The President has a veto on laws submitted for his approval, and under certain circumstances, his veto may prevent the passage of a law. The veto of our bishops in General Convention, is precisely like the veto of the lower house: that is, both houses must concur, or a canon will not pass; and, as we have seen it, it was with no little difficulty even this was at last obtained for the bishops in 1808." [pp. 54-56.]

The point of view as well as the position itself has changed greatly since Hawks' day. The current Canon makes the Presiding Bishop a Metropolitan with the rights of visitation, and the archiepiscopal obligation of representing the whole American Church and its episcopate in its corporate capacity. Title I, Canon 2, Section 4 reads:

Sec. 4 (a). The Presiding Bishop of the Church shall be the chief [12/13] pastor thereof. As such he shall

(1) Be charged with responsibility for giving leadership in initiating and developing the policy and strategy of the Church;

(2) Speak God's word to the Church and to the world, as the representative of this Church and its episcopate in its corporate capacity;

(3) Take order for the consecration of Bishops, when duly elected; and, from time to time, assemble the Bishops of this Church to meet with him, either as the House of Bishops or as a Council of Bishops, and set the time and place of such meetings;

(4) Preside over meetings of the House of Bishops; and, when the two Houses of the General Convention meet in Joint Session, have the right of presiding over such Session, of calling for such joint Session, of recommending legislation to either House and, upon due notification, of appearing before and addressing the House of Deputies; and whenever he shall address the General Convention upon the state of the Church, it shall be incumbent upon both Houses thereof to consider and act upon any recommendations contained in such address;

(5) Visit every Diocese and Missionary District of this Church for the purpose of

(i) Holding pastoral consultations with the Bishop or Bishops thereof and, with their advice, with the lay and clerical leaders of the jurisdiction;

(ii) Preaching the Word; and

(iii) Celebrating the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper

(b.) The Presiding Bishop shall report annually to the Church, and he may, from time to time, issue Pastoral Letters in his own person.

(c) The Presiding Bishop shall perform such other functions as shall be prescribed in these Canons.

Great offices, ultimately, are made that by their holders. Henry Knox Sherrill is the one who turned an Eighteenth Century Chairmanship into a Twentieth Century dynamic leadership. (At some point the Episcopal Church must get around to proper designation of its leader. "Presiding Bishop," as a title, is no longer appropriate--Primus, or Primate, would seem to be appropriate to our history and background.) Together with the Executive Council, the Presiding Bishop can initiate new work. No longer is he solely the interim fiscal agent of General Conventions. If power and authority are fundamentally interchangeable, then we can expect much greater centralization than exists at present. The Canons fully provide for it, and efficiency demands it. We are no longer a confederation, and we deceive ourselves if we think we are.

There is more than enough canonical authority around; the problem, rather, is making the whole Church accept it. Yet, surely, before that can happen, the Canons must be brought up to date. The idea of presenting a Bishop, Presbyter, or Deacon, for violation of the Rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer is utterly absurd. A recent decision makes it abundantly clear that even admitted violation of the Canons of General Convention is not to be handled [13/14] as simply or directly as the Canons had seemed to imply.

In the inevitable matter of the ordination of women to the Priesthood and the possibility of their consecration as Bishops, it seems that Title III, Canon 26, specifically rules out any theory that the term "he" in the Ordinal and the Canons is generic. (Prior to the adoption of this Canon, a case could have been made that, on the basis of Title IC, Canon 4, Section 3, the Canons specify "male" communicants when the word "man" is not being used generically.) Title 3, Canon 26, Sections 4 and 5, distinctly except women from requirements relating to the Priesthood. If any change is to be made it will require a brand new Canon.

The Lambeth Conference (in 1968) adopted the following Resolutions:

Ordination of Women to the Priesthood.

34. The Conference affirms its opinion that the theological arguments as at present presented for and against the ordination of women to the priesthood are inconclusive.

35. The Conference requests every national and regional Church or province to give careful study to the question of the ordination of women to the priesthood and to report its findings to the Anglican Consultative Council (or Lambeth Consultative Body) which will make them generally available to the Anglican Communion.

36. The Conference requests the Anglican Consultative Council (or Lambeth Consultative Body) (a) to initiate consultations with other Churches which have women in their ordained ministry and with those which have not, and (b) to distribute the information thus secured throughout the Anglican Communion.

37. The Conference recommends that, before any national or regional Church or province makes a final decision to ordain women to the priesthood, the advice of the Anglican Consultative Council (or Lambeth Consultative Body) be sought and carefully considered.

38. The Conference recommends that, in the meantime, national or regional Churches or provinces should be encouraged to make canonical provision, where this does not exist, for duly qualified women to share in the conduct of liturgical worship, to preach, to baptize, to read the epistle and gospel at the Holy Communion, and to help in the distribution of the elements.

(It is to be noted that the function of the Conference is to be consultative and advisory, and, therefore, that its findings are not to be interpreted as having legislative force throughout the Anglican Communion. Yet at the same time it must be remembered that 462 Bishops voted for these Resolutions.)

The Conference commended the study of the paragraphs on "priesthood" in the report of Section II "as an Anglican contribution towards an understanding of the nature of priesthood in the present [14/15] ecumenical situation." They read:



"Man is a unity of body and spirit, sharing the sacramental nature of the universe of which he is part. He is made to have dominion over the created order, and to use it according to God's will and to his glory. God speaks to men through the events of history and seeks their co-operation with his purpose through their active involvement in the world's affairs. The offering of themselves and the world's resources to God is their priestly responsibility. Men's sin is to refuse this responsible obedience by using God's world for their own ends.


"In Christ God declares himself and his purposes. Christ represents God to men and men before God, and he restores their relationship with God and with one another. In his glad acceptance of human life and of suffering and death upon the cross Christ offers his perfect obedience to the Father on behalf of mankind, and so he perfectly fulfils the priestly vocation of all men.

The Priesthood of the Church

"All Christians are committed to sharing the sacrificial life and death of Christ in his ministry of revelation and reconciliation. (Rom. 6.3,4.) All Christians share in the priesthood of their Lord. This is the primary order of ministry in the Church to which all Christians are consecrated by baptism, and which in union with Christ they fulfil by offering the diversity of their lives, abilities, and work to God.

The Ordained Ministry

"In order that all the members of the Church may grow up into the fullness of this priesthood, Christ calls and empowers some to be priests of the priestly people. Although those called must be recognized by the Church as its representatives, it is by ordination that they are set apart by God for their special ministry. It is through a bishop, the representative of Christ and of the universal Church and a symbol of its unity, that a priest receives God's commission and grace and a share in the apostolic ministry. The characteristic function delegated by the bishop to a priest is that of presiding at the Eucharist in which all Christians, intimately united with the crucified and risen Lord and with one another, are offered anew to God. In the Eucharist the whole life of the Church and the world is gathered and expressed. Here, above all, we worship, we give thanks, and we intercede; here God's word is proclaimed and his reconciling love is imparted; here the Church is united, built up, and renewed for its mission to the world. In presiding at the Eucharist a priest is seen as an agent of Christ, of the Church, [15/16] and of the bishop; for a priest as well as a bishop is a focus and symbol of the unity in Christ of all his people. This unity of bishop, priest, and people is obscured unless the relationship between them is seen to be a continuing reality.


"God calls to the ordained ministry people of various gifts in a variety of ways, and their ministry must be exercised in a wide variety of circumstances. Some, for example, are called to a parochial ministry, some to a ministry of scholarship or teaching, some to community life. Others may fulfil their ministry in the context of professional, business, or industrial life. But whatever the circumstances priesthood always involves pastoral responsibility within a particular community.

"Vocation to God's service in the ordained ministry is never the concern of an individual alone. It is also that of the Church which he is to serve and of the bishop who bears the responsibility of ordaining him. The variety of people whom God calls to the ministry must be matched by diversity in methods of training them, in which their different needs and circumstances must be carefully taken into account. Many of those engaged in training men for the ministry today are showing courage and vision in their readiness to experiment with new methods. Any period of training is also essentially a time when vocation is tested. Called by God to serve a world in turmoil, priests must be helped in their training both before and after ordination to that faithfulness in prayer and study which is the indispensable foundation of their ministry.

The Work of a Priest

"Ministry means service. A priest is called to be the servant of God and of God's people, to be conformed to the life of Christ who took upon himself the form of a servant. As priest he serves by faithful obedience in prayer and worship, in ministering the sacraments and in absolving sinners. As pastor he serves in gladly accepting the discipline imposed upon his time, his energy, and his compassion. He serves by being a sign to the whole Church of its priesthood, and by helping it through its members to grow into its fullness. As prophet he serves in proclaiming God's word, not only in preaching but in pronouncing God's judgement on sin and his mercy in forgiveness, and in equipping and renewing God's people for mission. Only as a priest remains close to Christ and all his members by daily persevering in personal prayer and by taking his proper part in the Church's worship can he grow in his ministry of service to God and man. A priest, himself a sinful man, is set apart by Christ in ordination to minister to Christians living within the tension between nature and grace--a tension which he shares--in order that he and they may be transformed into Christ's likeness. It is immaterial whether in his office he be described as a priest or presbyter provided that it is recognized that his ministry is both ordained by Christ himself and acknowledged by God's people.

"Today there are many doubts and much perplexity about the meaning and demands of a ministry which calls for sanctity, lifelong commitment, and constant renewal. Its sure foundation is the calling and abiding [16/17] faithfulness of God, and it is in this assurance that every priest can find fulfilment and joy. As he perseveres faithfully in his vocation he will discover that the work which he has undertaken and the skills which he acquires, far from being a superficial layer on top of his real personality, become wholly integrated with himself. 'If a man becomes a priestly man, he can never cease to be what he is.' (Leslie Houlden)"

This is Anglican thinking at its best, and it is introduced at this point so that we may be reminded of the context of authority. God gives authority to the whole Body of Christ, that it may function with power as a disciplined company of the totally committed. Authority is ministered in the Church for the Church's well-being. The Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church are those guide-lines which experience has shown to be the best way of preserving this particular family's liberty in Christ. So when the Church insists that an officially recognized Religious Community shall, in its Constitution, acknowledge the Doctrine, Discipline, and Worship of this Church as of supreme authority, it is but requiring that living relationships must be preserved by a common loyalty to a common standard.

Hawks observed that "it is part of the creed of an Episcopalian, that it is best when circumstances permit, ambulare super antiquas vias." There is another facet of that creed, festina lente. We move too slowly for some and too swiftly for others, but, in fairness, it is no light thing to contemplate moving that which may be someone else's landmark.

In Dean Hodges' superb biography of Henry Codman Potter, he quotes the Bishop as saying:

"It is impossible in the minds of people who hold fast to the principles of common honesty, to respect either the consistency or the integrity of one who eats the church's bread, accepts the church's dignities, enjoys the church's honors, and impugns the church's faith. If he must assail her beliefs, then the dictate of ordinary uprightness would plainly seem to be that he must, first of all, withdraw from a fellowship to whose fundamental beliefs he cannot candidly assent." [George Hodges, Henry Codman Potter, Seventh Bishop of New York, the Macmillan Company, New York, 1915, p. 377.]

To which Hodges appends the following thoughtful observation:

"This somewhat preemptory dealing with a delicate problem offended the friends of one clergyman who was at that moment under accusation of heresy, and troubled others who resented the implication that "the church's bread" may be rightly eaten only by those who are satisfied with the existing church. It seemed to them that the best allegiance to the church requires such faithful treatment of discovered error as shall keep the creed consistent with the truth. They remembered how St. Stephen stayed in the church till he was driven out with stones, and how St. Athanasius accepted the church's dignities and enjoyed the church's honors while he impugned with all his might that which several synods of bishops declared [17/18] to be the church's faith." [p. 377]

I myself suspect that it is perfectly all right to play the part of Athanasius, provided one has the self-discipline of Athanasius, and is equally willing to be against the whole world. Yet, believe me, it is the lived-out experience of the Church which determines who was an Athanasius--and who an Arius.

Possibly the best summary of all is in one of Potter's Charges:

"We want defenders of the Church's liberty, as well as defenders of the church's orthodoxy, and we want on this point, on the part of the episcopate, a candor in leadership which honest men have, from those who are over them, a right to look for. There is a divine doctrine, but let us take care that in defining it we do not make it narrower than Christ Himself has made it. There is a divine order, but let us not seek only so inexorably to enforce it that, like those iron images of the Middle Ages, it shall crush the life out of the victim whom it embraces. The question for us who are ministers of this Church is how the two sides of its truth are to be united in that kind of churchmanship which shall stand for all the sanctities of the individual soul in the sanctity of the Church itself.

"Authority and reason, order and freedom, spirit and form, this is the true definition of the Catholic Church, and of the churchmanship which our times want--because all times want it." [p. 254.]


"If any man ask me then what kind of Bishop I would have, I answer, Such a one for age, as may be a Father; for wisdom, a Senator; for gravity, a Stoic; for light, an Angel; for innocency, a Saint; for industry, a Labourer; for constancy, a Confessor; for zeal, a Martyr; for charity, a Brother; for humility, a Servant to all the faithful ministers and other Christians under his charge. I would have him venerable for those several excellencies which are most remarkable in the ancient and most imitable Bishops,--the devotion of St. Gregory, the indefatigableness of St. Austin, the courage of St. Ambrose, the learning of Nazianzen, the generosity of Basil, the eloquence of Chrysostom, the gentleness of Cyprian, the holy flames of Ignatius, the invincible constancy of Polycarp,--that so he may come nearest of the Apostolic pattern, and resemble the most of any Christian or minister the grace and glory of Our Lord Jesus Christ. I would have him (yet not I, but the vote of all pious Antiquity requires a Bishop) to be among men the most moral; among Christians the most faithful; among preachers, the most painful; among orators, the most persuasive; among governors, the most moderate; among devotionaries, the most fervent; among professors, the most forward; among practicers, the most exact; among sufferers, the most patient; among perseverants, the most constant. He should be as the Holy of Holies was, both to the inward court of those that are truly sanctified and converted; and to the outward court of those that are called Christians only in visible profession. I would have nothing in him that is justly to be blamed or sinisterly suspected, and all things that are most deservedly commended by wise and sober Christians. I would have a Bishop of all men the most complete, as having on him the greatest care, that of the Church and of souls; and this in a more public and eminent inspection, as one daily remembering the strictness of God's account and expecting either a most glorious crown or a most grievous curse to all eternity."

John Gauden

(From Hieraspistes, A Defence by Way of Apology for the Ministry and Ministers of the Church of England, humbly presented to the Consciences of all those that excel in Virtue, London, 1653, pp. 273-276. Gauden published two treatises on the Christian Ministry in the year 1653; the other one was entitled The Case of Ministers' Maintenance by Tithes [as in England] plainly discussed in Conscience and Prudence. Neither of them has been reprinted.)

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