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Bishop Seabury and the Non-juring Bishops

From The Colonial Church Chronicle and Missionary Journal, Vol. III (No. XXX) (December, 1849), pages 217-221.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2007

[217] Correspondence and Documents.


SIR,--In your last number, a very interesting account appeared of the removal of the honoured remains of Bishop Seabury, the first Episcopal father of the American Church. As everything relating to the history of this revered man will be valuable, I think it may not be unacceptable if I lay before your readers a circumstance connected with his application in this country for a continuation of the Episcopal succession, which has escaped the researches of all who have written an account of that event.

It is well known that Dr. Seabury came to England with the view of obtaining consecration, in 1783, having been elected Bishop by the Clergy of Connecticut. The difficulties he met with on his application to the Archbishop of York, and afterwards to the Archbishop of Canterbury, are in the recollection of all. Wearied at length by the uncertainty and delay which attended this negotiation, he began to turn his eyes to Scotland for the desired boon. The application was made in this quarter chiefly through the medium of Dr. Berkeley and Mr. Elphinston. But it appears, from some existing letters, [1] [(1) The liberty of making this use of the letter referred to has been procured through the kindness of the Rev. H. H. Norris, a name which cannot be mentioned without offering a tribute of respect to him who bears it, not merely on account of the unswerving consistency of his character, but on account of the fostering encouragement he has ever extended to institutions and men whom he has thought likely to render service to the Church.] that a similar application was made at the same time to the representatives of the non-juring Bishops in England--a circumstance of some interest in itself, and particularly so as throwing light upon the condition, at that period, of the remnant of that distinguished body of men.

Of this body there existed at the time two Bishops: Mr. Price of Manchester, and Mr. Cartwright of Shrewsbury. The former appears to have been a man of no particular distinction, and, owing to the decline of his party and of his fortunes, was following the trade of a grocer in the above-named town. The latter likewise was engaged in secular employment--that of an apothecary, in Shrewsbury; but his letters show that he was a man well versed in theology, thoroughly acquainted with the writings of the non-juring Divines--Hickes, J. Collier, Leslie, Brett, &c.--and strongly attached to their tenets.

The following letter from Bishop Cartwright is the only one in the correspondence which relates to the circumstance of this application; but I think it is worth being recorded:--

Shrewsbury, Aug. 30, 1784.

"REV. SIR,--Yesterday I received a letter from Bishop Price of Manchester, enclosing a paper written by the Rev. Mr. Jonathan Boucher, of which the following is an abridged copy:--'Mr. Price is requested to consult Mr. Cartwright whether the Rev. Dr. [217/218] Seabury can be consecrated by any non-juring Bishop. With respect to temporals, Dr. Seabury is, and expects to remain, independent of any control from any State. But if there be any requisitions of a spiritual nature which Dr. Seabury, as a conscientious member of the Church of England, cannot comply with, Mr. Cartwright is requested to inform his friend whether he knows of any non-juring bishop or bishops, of the late Bishop Gordon's principles, and where they reside. From a review of the Liturgy at Mr. Price's, it does not appear that anything will be required which Dr. Seabury may not very safely assent to.' The answer to these queries I am requested to forward to you. I will therefore begin with the last of them.

"When I resided in London, which I left near fifteen years ago, I personally knew Bishop Gordon, but had no particular intimacy with him, as he was a gentleman of great reserve; but I was upon the most intimate footing of friendship with one of his presbyters, the Rev. James Falconer, brother of the Most Rev. William Falconer, many years Primate of Scotland, now lately deceased. From him I was well informed of Bishop Gordon's principles and practices in Church affairs. I also, at that time, corresponded with some of the Scotch clergy, and from them learned that the principles of most of them were consonant to those of the primitive Catholic Church, which some of them indeed evinced by several small tracts published, or at least printed, at different times; and particularly by an edition of the ancient Liturgy of St. James, which was translated into English, and with proper rubrics, &c. prepared for use by the late Bishop Rattraye, and printed in quarto for James Bettersham, London, by subscription, in the year 1744. This was reprinted in 12mo. in London, with a form of Morning and Evening Prayer, and a penitential Office added to it, 1748, but without the name of any printer or publisher; but I suspect it was printed by Mr. Bettersham. Since I left London, I have often inquired after the state of the Church in Scotland, but have never yet been able to get any intelligence, except that there were a few licensed chapels, served by clergy commonly ordained by the Bishop of Carlisle. So that, after this long preface, my answer to this query must briefly be, That I do not know whether there be one orthodox Bishop left in Scotland or England, beside Bishop Price and my unworthy self.

"To the other query, viz. 'Whether Dr. Seabury can be consecrated by any non-juring Bishop,' I think we cannot properly, and ought not immediately to return a categorical answer. We do not assume the character of non-juring Bishops, though undoubtedly our predecessors had it, and we derive our succession through the hands of those who acknowledged it. But we assume and acknowledge only the character or title of Bishops of the orthodox British Church, or of the Primitive Catholic Church in Britain, which is now reduced to a small remnant; but yet such as I trust in God will so preserve the sacred deposituin, that it will again revive and flourish when men have sufficiently wearied themselves in the labyrinths of error and innovation.

[219] "The paper says that Dr. Seabury is 'independent, in temporals, of any control from any State.' Had it said that he was 'independent of any civil State in spirituals,' it would have spoken our sentiments, and there would have been great probability of a perfect union with us. I may submit to the Civil State under which I live, in temporals; but in spirituals, I acknowledge no allegiance or obedience to any State, but according to the laws of the Church Catholic in the three first centuries, and such as are consonant thereto, which I am persuaded the established Church (and that I call the Church of England) in a great variety of articles most notoriously violates, and obliges her Clergy to violate. Pardon my freedom; I hope never to daub with untempered mortar.

"But the paper further says, 'From a review of the Liturgy at Mr. Price's, it does not appear that anything will be required which Dr. Seabury may not very safely assent to.'

"If Dr. Seabury can conscientiously officiate by that Liturgy at present, he would, when consecrated, be fully authorized to frame his own liturgy, if he chose so to do, and cannot be lawfully subject to any control but that of the laws, customs, and usages of the primitive Catholic Church. And provided he will engage so to conform himself in all his ecclesiastical functions, nothing more ought to be required of him by any Consecrator. We have no Trent creeds, no Thirty-nine Articles, no nice metaphysical definitions of doubtful speculations: In these matters we think and let think. The questions in our Ordinal or Office of Consecration bind not the conscience of an honest intelligent Christian with any un-orthodox or un-Catholic Fathers. They do, indeed, propose to him an obligation to study and observe the doctrine, government, worship, and discipline of the primitive Catholic Church,--an obligation which the great degeneracy of the times, and the extreme diversity of opinions which now prevails, render the more necessary. And it is only by reverting to first and Catholic principles that the genuine purity of our most holy faith, the comely Catholic practice of public Christian worship, the exercise of wholesome spiritual discipline, and the unity of the Church and priesthood, can ever be recovered. For as the Church was not first planted, so I think it never will be restored to its purity by any lay-power, or mere civil establishment whatever.

"Those Powers, taken in the gross, now are, and always were, rather inimical to the purity of religion; though true religion is itself the best support of lawful civil power.

"I beg pardon for troubling you with so long a letter upon two short queries, which as yet I cannot decisively answer. If I should be any way instrumental in planting an orthodox Episcopacy in the Western World, I shall think it the happiest event of my life. This letter, though at Mr. Boucher's request it be superscribed to you, is meant for the Rev. Dr. Seabury's consideration, to whom I beg leave to present my faithful and affectionate respects. Though I am at a great distance from, and cannot conveniently have a personal consultation with, Bishop Price, yet I believe his general sentiments and [219/220] principles upon these subjects are in perfect unison with my own. May our heavenly Father vouchsafe to give us pure hearts and watchful minds, the knowledge of his truths, and obedience to his will in this life, and in the kingdom of his dear Son in the world to come everlasting life. I am, Rev. Sir, your and Dr. Seabury's very faithful servant in one common Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,


This letter was addressed to "the Rev. Dr. Thomas Bradbury Chandler." His is a name which will not be soon forgotten; and Mr. Hawkins, in his interesting and valuable "Missions of the Church of England," has done good service to the Church, in setting forth in full proportions the character of this noble-minded man. [1] [(1) Historical Notices of Missions in America, pp. 150-161.] It is enough to say here, that driven, almost starved, out of America for his loyal adhesion to the mother country, he was at this time in England, where he exerted himself to procure the extension of the episcopate to his native land and adopted Church (for he had been brought up as a Dissenter); and that, after himself declining an elevation to the Episcopate in Canada, he had the satisfaction of seeing the Church established in its integrity there as well as in the United States.

The other person mentioned in this letter, and with whom Bishop Cartwright maintained constant correspondence, was one of a no less distinguished and noble character. The Rev. Jonathan Boucher, like Dr. Chandler, had ministered to a congregation in North America during the eventful period of the war of independence. Like Dr. Chandler too, he was true and loyal to the mother country and to his lawful sovereign, and laboured to repress the rebellion. As an instance of his bravery and steadfastness, it is related that, on preaching his last sermon, when his church was full of armed soldiers, he professed, in the face of his insurrectionary audience, that "as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego would not worship the image which the king had set up, so would not he the image which the people had set up; but as long as he had breath to utter it, he would, with Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet, proclaim, God save the King."

It is needless to say, that Mr. Boucher was very ardent, and indeed bore the most prominent part in procuring the communication of the Episcopate to America. Bishop Seabury, it is well known, received consecration at the hands of the Scotch Bishops; so that this negotiation with Bishop Cartwright came to nothing. In truth, there were one or two circumstances, which, although not invalidating Bishop Cartwright's commission, yet rendered it wiser that the succession should be sought from the Bishops in Scotland.

But although not invited to confer the sacred charge and office upon Bishop Seabury, it is interesting to observe in Cartwright's letters the deep concern and affection he felt for the new Bishop and [220/221] the American Church. "My heart," he says, in a subsequent letter to Mr. Boucher, "is very much in Bishop Seabury's work, and therefore I shall be very glad to hear good tidings of him." "The planting of an Episcopal Church in America has been a subject of our prayers for many years; and I sincerely rejoice that God has so far heard us as to send forth such a man as Bishop Seabury seems to be, under such promising circumstances." "Having mentioned Bishop Seabury and Dr. Chandler," he writes to Mr. Boucher in 1787, "I shall be exceedingly obliged to you to furnish me with all the intelligence you can concerning those excellent men. They are, daily in my thoughts, and my prayers and good wishes are constantly offered up for them."

Thinking that these circumstances deserve being recorded, I beg to place this account of them at your disposal, and remain, Sir, &c.,


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