THE course of the narrative has brought me to the account of some matters which seem to lend themselves to a grouping around the idea of prerogative; and, objectionable as are the associations of that word in many minds, I can think of no other which will better serve the purpose in hand. After all, however, prerogative is but an exclusive or peculiar privilege; and although many in high place both in the past and in the present have made and are making an evil use of such privilege, yet no man who considers his own sense of honor, his own consciousness of love, his own inward appreciation of what is good and true and lofty and noble, and his own thankfulness for whatever in his own life tends to foster these sensibilities, can afford to say that prerogative or privilege is in itself unworthy.
The subject of these memoirs appears to have been largely influenced by such sensibilities. He carried himself always in his own consciousness as in, and not of the world; and while he did not decline the dignities which were the attribute of his station, nor fail to assert the rights which he conceived to belong to that station, yet he lived altogether above the sense of personal gratification in these matters, viewing them simply as pertaining to the Episcopate which he was, according to his faith and judgment, privileged to share. His attitude toward the matter of primacy in the House of Bishops, and toward the matter of his concern in the transmission of the American succession, seems to show this disposition of his heart and mind; and, in a lesser way, his attitude toward the matter of Episcopal habiliments indicates the same feeling and principle.
Associations of Bishops, like all other deliberative bodies, need a presiding officer; and not only has such a distinction prevailed in Episcopal Synods and Councils, but also the office created by the distinction has been apt to carry with it, not superiority of Episcopal authority, since all Bishops are essentially equal in that respect, but a certain capacity of representing the common consent of the body, deferred to by its individual members. One of the most ancient Canons of the Church provided that the Bishops of every nation should know him who was chief among them, and do nothing of great moment without his consent; and that he who was Chief should do nothing without the consent of all, that there might be unity of heart. [Apostolic Canons, XXXIV: Fulton's Index Canonum, p. 91.] And the various titles of Archbishop, Metropolitan, Primate, Primus, etc., testify to the general usage of the Church in the matter.
With such precedents before them, of which they cannot be presumed to have been ignorant, it is not surprising that the first House of Bishops in the Ecclesiastical Union consummated in 1789, should have taken care to make corresponding provision in their own case; and although there were but three Bishops in the Country, and but two of this number actually present in the first session of the House, the principle that the Presidency of the House was the attribute of the Bishop of senior consecration was established; by reason of which Bishop Seabury became the first Presiding Bishop.
To avoid misunderstanding, it is desirable to observe that the title of Presiding Bishop, with which the Church was familiar throughout the 19th Century, and for some previous years, was simply descriptive of the Presidency of the House of Bishops. The Office had not been established by the Constitution; and the incumbent of the office was not in the proper sense of the words, the Presiding Bishop of the Church, but was the Presiding Bishop of the House of Bishops. The office of "Presiding Bishop of the Church" was created by the Constitution as amended in 1901, and never before existed. [Article I, section 3.] The Constitution as amended prior to that date, and several Canons, also prior to it, devolved various duties upon the Bishop who was recognized as bearing the title of Presiding Bishop, although he bore it without Constitutional or Canonical authority, and only by rule of the House of Bishops--the earliest canonical use of the title which I have observed being in 1799: but the office in itself involved simply presidency in the House of Bishops; and seems to have had one only other prerogative connected with it--that, namely, of presiding at the Consecration of a Bishop. [Bioren's Journals, p. 196.] The title Presiding Bishop occurs in the Rubric before the Consecration Office, which was adopted in 1792, and first used in the Consecration of Bishop Claggett; but it denotes in the Rubric, as it does later in Constitution and Canons, an office recognized as existing under the known rule of the House of Bishops, and owing its origin to no other source. [Quarto edition of Ordinal by Hugh Gaine, New York, 1793.] In like manner in the letter of consecration of Claggett, Provoost, then President of the House of Bishops, is described, in accordance with the Rubric, as Presiding Bishop, though his signature is simply "Samuel Provoost." [Bioren's Journals, pp. 127, 128.]
The first one of the Presidents of the House of Bishops who signs himself as "Presiding Bishop" is Bishop White, in 1795; and such has been the general subsequent usage. [Bioren's Journals, pp. 127, 128.] It is possible that the association of this title with Bishop White; and the fact, observable in looking through the Journals, that it does not appear to have been used by either of his predecessors, each of whom signed himself as President; [Ibid., pp. 93, 127.] may have given rise to the assertion which has been sometimes made that Bishop White was the first Presiding Bishop; yet in fact he held only the same office which had previously been held by Bishop Provoost and originally by Bishop Seabury; though he preferred to use another title, which was not only better in itself, but also had, when he used it, the sanction of Rubrical precedent.
It is a matter of pleasure and of interest to note that the action which made Bishop Seabury the first to preside in the House of Bishops, also originated with Bishop White; whose account of the transaction is as follows:
"The form of proceeding in the House of Bishops, consisting of two only--Bishop Provoost, although absent, being considered as making up the constitutional number--were soon settled. They were drafted by the author, and he seized the opportunity of preventing all discussion at any time--for this he hoped for as the effect--on the point of precedency; by resting the matter on the seniority of Episcopal consecration: which, of course, made Bishop Seabury the President of the House." [Bishop White's Memoirs, p. 148.]
In the Journal of the House of Bishops, October 5, 1789. the record of Rules established for the government of the House gives the following as the first:
"The Senior Bishop present shall be the President; seniority to be reckoned from the dates of the letters of consecration." [Bioren's Journals, p. 87.]
The principle of making the presidency dependent upon seniority of consecration, was questioned at the next session of the House of Bishops, and a rule was adopted which made the Presidency dependent on the principle that it should be successive in the several members of the House. This seems to have been the only principle in the new rule; for the comparative proximity to the North Pole can hardly be considered a principle, so much as a providential dispensation for the advancement of Bishop Provoost, to which he interposed no obstacle. At the session of the House in 1792, composed of Bishops Seabury, White, Provoost, and Madison, "the first rule for the government of the House of Bishops, as agreed on at the last Convention was re-considered;" and it was "Resolved, that the said rule be rescinded--that the following be adopted instead thereof, viz:--The office of the President of this house shall be held in rotation, beginning from the North: reference being had to the presidency of this house in the last Convention.
In consequence of the above rule, the Right Rev. Dr. Provoost took the chair." [Bioren's Journals, pp. 122-3.]
Bishop Seabury, recording in his private Journal some of the matters which took place at this session of General Convention of 1792, makes the following entry in regard to the transfer of the Presidency of the House of Bishops; referring to the original arrangement in 1789, and to the change just made in 1792:
"At the last General Convention held at Philadelphia, it was proposed by Bp. White, and agreed to by me, that the eldest Bp. present (to be reckoned from the consecration) should be the President of the House of Bps. This agreement seemed to be displeasing to Bps. Provoost and Madison; and it was proposed by them that the presidency should go by rotation, beginning from the North. I had no inclination to contend who should be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, and therefore readily consented to relinquish the Presidency into the hands of Bp. Provoost. I thank God for his grace on this occasion, and beseech him that no self exaltation, or envy of others may ever lead me into debate and contention, but that I may ever be willing to be the least, when the peace of his Church requires it. Amen."
The account which Bishop White gives of this transfer is extremely interesting and suggestive; and includes also a reference to the question, of which no disposition had as yet been made, whether the continuance of the American Episcopate was to be effected solely by the Bishops of English consecration, or with the co-operation also of the Bishop of Scottish consecration. Bishop White and Bishop Provoost had declined to join, as requested by General Convention, with Bishop Seabury in the consecration of Dr. Bass, on the ground of the obligation which they conceived themselves to be under to the English Bishops, not to unite in any Episcopal Consecration until they had been supplied with another, or third Bishop of English consecration. This third Bishop was present in the person of Dr. Madison of Virginia; and the election of the Revd. Dr. Thomas John Claggett to be Bishop of Maryland, and the application for his consecration to that Office at the Convention of 1792, made it necessary that the question of the participants in that act of Consecration should be decided by the House of Bishops at that session. But at the opening of the session, when the displeasure of Bishops Provoost and Madison at the rule in regard to the Presidency was manifested, the point had not yet been mooted. In view of his past experiences of Bishop Provoost's attitude towards him, and with knowledge of the restrictions imposed by the English Bishops, it certainly was not unnatural that Bishop Seabury should apprehend that the displeasure manifested at his Presidency, might be only part of the larger feeling against the consecration by virtue of which he had obtained that Presidency; and while he cared little for the matter of Presidency, the matter of the recognition of his consecration, and his admission on equal terms with the other Bishops in the perpetuation of that Episcopate which he had been the first to introduce into the Country, was everything to him. Without raising any discussion of the matter in the session of the House of Bishops, however, which might have developed opposition, he took the more prudent course of conferring with Bishop White personally upon the subject; and the result was his waiver of any claim to the Presidency, and the assurance that in the consecration of Dr. Claggett he should cooperate with the other Bishops; all of which may more fully and at large appear from the following graphic account of the venerable and diplomatic Angel of Pennsylvania.
"When the Bishops met in the vestry-room of Trinity Church, on Wednesday, the 12th of September, it appeared that Bishops Provoost and Madison were dissatisfied with the rule in regard to the presidency, as established in 1789. As the house were divided on the question of repealing the rule, it would have stood. But this might have been construed into an ungenerous advantage of the prior meeting; in which those now in the negative had voices, and the others had none. The day passed over without any determination; which was not productive of inconvenience; the morning being principally occupied by the religious service, and the convention not meeting in the afternoon. The next morning, the author received a message from Bishop Seabury; requesting a meeting in private, before the hour of the convention. It took place at Dr. Moore's, where he lodged. He opened his mind to this effect--That from the course taken by the two other bishops on the preceding day, he was afraid they had in contemplation the debarring of him from any hand in the consecration, expected to take place during this convention--that he could not submit to this, without an implied renunciation of his consecration, and contempt cast on the source from which he had received it--and that the apprehended measure, if proposed and persevered in, must be followed by an entire breach with him, and, as he supposed, with the Church under his superintendence.
The author expressed his persuasion, that no such design was entertained, cither by Bishop Provoost or Bishop Madison; and his determination, that if it were, it should not have his concurrence. He believed they wished, as he also did, to have three Bishops present under the English consecration, whenever such an occasion, as that now expected, should occur. The being united in the act with a bishop who should consecrate through another line, would not weaken the English Chain. In regard to the question of presidency, on which Bishop Seabury had intimated that he should not be tenacious; the author told him, that his opinion being the same as in 1789, he could not consistently vote for the reversal of the rule; which, if it were done, he thought had best be by the absence that morning of one of the two now conversing; and that should Bishop Seabury think it proper in this way to waive his right under the rule, the author pledged himself, that in no event would he have a hand in the ensuing consecration, if it were to be accompanied by the rejection of Bishop Seabury's assistance in it; although there was still entertained the persuasion, that no such measure would be thought of, as indeed proved to be the fact. Hands were given, in testimony of mutual consent in this design. He absented himself that morning, and the rule was altered, in the manner related on the journal; that is, for the presidency to go in rotation, beginning from the North; which made Bishop Provoost the president on the present occasion." "11. Bishop White's Memoirs, pp. 162, 163.
The Presidency of Bishop Provoost devolved upon him the right and duty of officiating as Presiding Bishop at the consecration of Bishop Claggett. He therefore performed that function, the other three Bishops co-operating with him therein. So that, as has been pointed out in an earlier chapter, Bishop Claggett derived his Episcopate from the Bishops of English consecration, and from the Bishop of Scottish consecration; and as there has been no Bishop of American consecration whose Episcopal line is not traced through Claggett, so there is no Bishop of American consecration whose Episcopal line is not traced to the Bishops of the Scottish Church, as well as to the Bishops of the English Church. With no desire to be Chief in that first American Consecration, the possibility of which he had first accomplished; and content with the humbler though not less effective part of co-operation in it, Bishop Seabury has no thought apparently but one of gratitude to God for the fulfillment at last of the great object of the transmission of the American Episcopate; an object for which he had now patiently waited for nearly eight years from the time of his own consecration. During all that period he had been perfectly conscious of his own power to transmit an actually valid succession by his own single act. During nearly five years of that period he had been conscious of the neighborhood of two other Bishops, with whose co-operation--denied to him on grounds insufficient in his judgment--a succession both valid and canonical might have been transmitted: but with an exalted faith in God's overruling care for His Church, he denies himself, and in patience waits for the result of that Divine care: and in view of that result he has no word to speak but one of faith and gratitude.
In his Journal, on September 20, 1792, commenting upon the recent Convention he made this record:
"At this Convention, the Right Reverend Dr. Claggett of Maryland was consecrated a Bishop; in Trinity Church, by Bps. Provoost, White, Madison, and Seabury. All Glory be ascribed to God for his goodness to his Church in the American States. In his goodness I confide for the continuance of that holy Episcopate which is now begun to be communicated in this Country. May it redound to his glory, and the good of his Church, through Jesus Christ. Amen." [Concerning the relative value of the acts of the Bishops associated in a Consecration, see Haddan's Apostolical Succession in the Church of England, (p. 221) and Seabury's Lectures on Haddan's teaching in that treatise (pp. 62, 63, and 73, 74). For controversial purposes, both in the effort to discredit Parker's consecration (temp. Eliz.) and in defense of the Roman succession in this country, resting on the consecration of Carroll by a single Bishop, it may be convenient to claim that the act of consecration can only be the act of one, and that those associated with him are merely witnesses of the act, contributing nothing to it. The Catholic rule, however, and one of the reasons of it---as affording additional security for the actual transmission of order--plainly presuppose that the act of Consecration is the joint act of those Bishops who participate in it; although, as matter of convenience, one, so far as the words are concerned, speaks for all. The Apostolic Canon says that a Bishop is to "be ordained by two or three Bishops"--not by one, in the presence of one or two others; and the common word "assisting" testifies to the same thing--for a witness does not assist, but he who co-operates, or helps another to perform an act, does. It is quite true (as Haddan says, p. 263) that "no one who knows of what he speaks can hold consecration by one to be invalid"; but it is a queer specimen of Roman logic to conclude that because valid consecration may be by one, therefore, it must be by one. Cf. contra the ruling of the Roman Canonist Martene, who determines the enquiry by saying--that all the Bishops who are present are not only laitnesses but also co-operators, is to be asserted beyond all shadow of doubt. (De antiquis Ecclesiac Ritibus, Lib. I, (Cap. VIII, Art. X, Ord. XVI): and, for a brief account of the consecration of Carroll, see note, pp. T29, 130, of Seabury's Introduction to the Study of Ecclesiastical Polity.)]
As the exigencies of history constrain us, at the present juncture, to part from Bishop Provoost, whom we may not meet again, it seems proper to record the fact that the relations between him and Bishop Seabury were, during the Convention of 1792 held in New York, placed upon a more agreeable footing than had before been the case. What the personal acquaintance between them had been before that time, or whether there had been personal acquaintance, I do not know: but the well known attitude of each in the view of the other makes it likely that neither felt particularly drawn to the other. Bishop White, with his keen perception, discerned possible inconveniences resulting from their mutual aversion; and with his usual tact and good disposition obviated these inconveniences by bringing the two together. As he tells the story, "An unpropitious circumstance attended the opening of this convention; but was happily removed before proceeding to business. Bishop Seabury and Bishop Provoost had never, when the former had been in New York at different times since his consecration exchanged visits. Although the author knows of no personal offence, that had ever passed from either of them to the other, and indeed was assured of the contrary by them both; yet the notoriety, that Bishop Provoost had denied the validity of Bishop Seabury's consecration, accounted at least for the omission of the attentions of a visit on either side. . . . The prejudices in the minds of the two bishops were such as threatened a distance between them; which would give an unfavorable appearance to themselves, and to the whole body, and might perhaps have an evil influence on their deliberations. But it happened otherwise. On a proposal being made to them by common friends, and through the medium of the present author, on the suggestion of Dr. Smith, they consented without the least hesitation, Bishop Seabury to pay, and Bishop Provoost to receive the visit, which etiquette enjoined on the former to the latter; and was as readily accepted by the one, as it had been proffered by the other. The author was present when it took place. Bishop Provoost asked his visitant to dine with him on the same day, in company of the author and others. The invitation was accepted, and from that time, nothing was perceived in either of them, which seemed to show, that the former distance was the result of anything else, but difference in opinion." [Bishop White's Memoirs, pp. 161, 162.]
This laudable observance of conventional proprieties in respect of social intercourse, may serve to introduce a reference to the matter of conventional proprieties in respect of dress; the observance of which in Bishop Seabury's case appears to have attracted some attention; and, like the baronial style of signature before mentioned, to have occasioned both amusement and censure, though such observance seems to have resulted from no unworthy motive. It is natural to conform to the usages of the society in which one lives: but when one occupies a position in which he is alone in the community, it is equally natural for him to conform to the conventions applicable to that position, even though they may be different from those of the society which he meets. The society into which Bishop Seabury returned after his consecration had no provision in its conventions for the dress of a Bishop, and was therefore amused, or displeased, as the case might be, at the sight of that to which it was unaccustomed. On his part, however, he preferred the conventions of the larger society which included Bishops, and had assigned to them a dress deemed suitable to distinguish them from others, whether Clergymen or laymen. And so it probably seemed as natural to him to wear the usual dress of a Bishop in every day life, as it did to wear the vestments appropriate to the Episcopal office in public ministrations. At any rate it may be inferred from the following humorous description of his appearance in 1786 in the city of Boston, that this is what he did. In that year, some one in Boston writes to a lady in New York a letter containing the following reference:
"I don't recollect anything else that is new to tell you.
O yes, Miss! We have a Bishop in town named Seabury--he dresses in a black shirt with the fore-flap hanging out, that's one suit; at other times he appears in a black sattin gown; white sattin sleeves, white belly band, with a scarlet knapsack at his back, and something resembling a pyramid on his head.
"Fine times now! We can have our sins pardoned without going to Rome--if you have any to repent of let me know for I guess you may obtain absolution by proxy." [For this extract, copied from the New York Packet, April 17, 1786 (No. 585), I am indebted to my friend the Revd. Joseph Hooper.]
It probably was only a man who wrote that letter; for one of the other sex would have known instinctively--- even if she had never before seen a Bishop--that the sleeves were not "sattin," and would perhaps have preferred "Stomacher" to the white--other thing; but, for a man, the writer succeeds fairly well in suggesting the Bishop's Apron, as it is called; and the Oxford Doctor's hood superinduced upon the Rochet and Chimere and lawn sleeves of the conventional Episcopal Vestment.
As to the "something resembling a pyramid on his head" that may require some further elucidation. The conventionalities of the Church of England at that period, did not call for the Mitre as part of the usual Episcopal Vestment; but in an older day it had been customary to use it; and the circumstances of his position perhaps suggested to Bishop Seabury the propriety of conforming to the earlier, rather than to the later usage.
It has been correctly observed that St. Paul, in his first Epistle to Timothy, makes provision for two orders in the ministry; one called by the name of Bishops (sometimes also Presbyters), and the other styled Deacons. The inference that this provision contemplated only these two orders might be allowed, if it did not leave out of view Timothy, under whose oversight and direction St. Paul was placing these two Orders, as sharing with him the Apostolic office, to which in later usage the Episcopal title was appropriated. Timothy, however, docs not seem to have been apparent in the horizon of the Standing Order of the Congregationalists, who recognized no higher office than that of the Presbyter. So it fell out that the representatives of that persuasion in Connecticut, affected the title of Bishop, as claimed to be synonymous with Presbyter, and doughtily opposed it to what were conceived to be the unauthorized assumptions of Samuel of Connecticut. And it is related that on one occasion, when Bishop Seabury attended a commencement of Yale College presided over by his old correspondent Dr. Stiles, the suggestion being made that he be invited to occupy a seat upon the stage, Dr. Stiles replied --"We are all Bishops here, but if there be room for another he can occupy it." [Beardsley's life of Bp. Seabury, p. 237.] It is possible, as has been said, that Bishop Seabury adopted the Mitre as a badge of office which those who were disposed to make light of his claims would not be likely to imitate; or, it may, after all, be that he used the Mitre simply because it always had been in the usage of the Church a proper part of the Episcopal Vestment; and he wished to observe the proprieties. The latter supposition seems to me more probable, as being more characteristic of the man.
Dr. Beardsley considers that the first time of the using of the Mitre was on the occasion of the consecration of the Church in New London which took place September 20, 1787; and he sets aside as due to a failure of memory, the testimony of an old Clergyman who said that he saw it on Bishop Seabury at his first ordination in 1785. [Ibid., pp. 318, 319.] The testimony of the letter in the New York Packet, however, is sufficiently plain to the fact that a Mitre was worn in April, 1786, though it was not that particular Mitre which Dr. Beardsley knew, and which he assumed to have been the only one the Bishop had possessed. The story of that particular Mitre, I venture to think may be worth telling, and some account of it may properly conclude the chapter concerning prerogative.
Writing from London, September 14, 1786, the Rev. Dr. Inglis relates the efforts which he had made to comply with Bishop Seabury's wish to be furnished with a Mitre, in the following paragraph:
"Agreeably to your desire, I called upon Mr. Stone about the Mitre. As no Mitres are worn by our Bishops in England, the manufacture of them is consequently little known. Neither Stone, nor any other person I could hear of, had ever made one. However, I told Stone he must try his hand. He and I have consulted together at least a dozen times; and we also called in a very ingenious embroiderer to assist us. After consulting a variety of books, cuts, monuments, &c (for no real Mitre was to be found) we at last fixed on the size, materials and manner of execution; all of which I hope will meet your approbation. The size I fancy is large enough. The materials are paste-board covered with black sattin; a cross in gold embroidery, with a Glory around it in front; and a crown of thorns, in gold embroidery, on the back part. The two lobes, if I may so call them, lined with white silk; and each pointed with a gilt cross, such as is usual in the Mitres of Bishops. The lower part bound with a handsome black lace, and the inside lined with black thin silk. The ribbons with which it ties down, are purple and each pointed with a bit of gold lace. My wish was to have it decent and respectable; without anything tawdry, or very expensive about it. What the expense will be I know not, and shall order the bill to be put up with the Mitre, by which you will learn it--it cannot be very great; and therefore if this Mitre does not please or fit you, the next may be made more to your mind." [Seabury Mss.]
The building of which Dr. Inglis was the architect and which would seem to have been still in process of construction in September 1786 was in due time completed and brought into use. When the Mitre reached New London does not appear; but at the rate of progress in those days it is likely enough that its arrival was at least so far delayed as that the consecration of September 1787 should present the first suitable occasion for the wearing of it. "The Consecration service," writes the Revd. Ashbel Baldwin, "was amazingly grand. The Bishop had on his royal attire. The crown and Mitre were refulgent." [Beardsley's life of Bp. Seabury, p. 318.] The reference is apparently to the crown as a feature of the Mitre, corresponding to the description of Dr. Inglis; and shows that the Mitre as sketched in his letter had taken the place of that (probably of domestic manufacture) which had been seen in an earlier stage of the Episcopate. It was worn on special occasions, by Bishop Seabury during his life; and afterwards, remained among the Bishop's effects in the hands of his son the Revd. Charles Seabury who removed from New London to Setauket on Long Island about 1814. Nearly half a century after the Bishop's death it was rescued from the oblivion with which it was threatened, by the interest of Arthur Cleveland Coxe, who at that time was contributing to "the Churchman" the poems which were afterwards gathered into the charming collection called Christian Ballads, and who applied to my father, who was then editor of the Churchman, for information as to the fate of an article, the significance of which had appealed to his devout fancy. "Doctor," said he, "is it true that your grandfather used to wear a Mitre?" "I believe it is," was the answer. "Well, have you any idea what became of it?" "Why, I rather think it is lying about the garret somewhere, in Setauket. If you like, perhaps I can get it for you." "If I like! Why the relic is priceless! It ought to be enshrined in Connecticut. Give it to me, and I will set it up in Trinity College." Before very long the promise was fulfilled. The Mitre was placed near the portrait of its wearer, and marked as that of "The Apostle of the New World "; and there were added to the number of the Christian Ballads the stirring verses which the contemplation of the object had drawn from the heart of the donor. [Coxe's Christian Ballads; Oxford ed. 1859: pp. 82-84.] It is curious to observe with what different feelings men view such things as these. To Bishop Coxe, in the fervor of the poetic imagination which produced the Christian Ballads, the Mitre was a sacred relic! To Dean Stanley in his visit to this Country some years ago, it was a grotesque survival of antiquated absurdity. The Dean was extremely amused with it. The moment I was presented to him he went off into gentle ripples of hilarity at the remembrance of his recent inspection of it. The amiable gentleman had probably never before seen a Mitre except on the recumbent effigies of his ancient Abbey, and he doubtless associated this one with a petrified Christianity. But Wisdom is justified of all her children.