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The Gift of the Episcopate to the Church in America

A sermon preached at the General Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on Sunday, October 21, 1934, at the Service, in commemoration of the Consecration of Samuel Seabury as the First Bishop of the Church in America.

By the Rt. Rev. William Thomas Manning, D.D.
Bishop of New York

Milwaukee: Morehouse Publishing, 1934.


"I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ."--ROMANS 1:16.

"I believe . . . in one Lord Jesus Christ . . . Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, And was made man . . . And I believe one Catholic and Apostolic Church."--THE NICENE CREED.

THIS SERVICE for which we are gathered here has a special message for us and a historic significance. We are commemorating at this time an event of crucial importance in the religious history of our Country, and in the life of our own Church, the Consecration of Samuel Seabury, in Aberdeen, Scotland, 150 years ago, as our first Bishop, and let us not forget that Samuel Seabury was not only the first Bishop of our own Church but that he was the first Bishop of any Church in this land. It is our happiness and privilege to have with us at this service the present Bishop of Aberdeen whose welcome presence makes these events vivid to us and speaks to us of the great debt that we owe to the Scottish Church. And with this Commemoration in mind I am asked to speak to you this morning on "The Gift of the Episcopate to the Church in America."

It is difficult for us to realize what the condition of the Episcopal Church was when the Revolutionary War came to an end, and what the situation was which faced those ten clergymen of the Church in Connecticut who met at Woodbury in 1783 to choose one to bear the office of Bishop. They met in secret, and they had good reason for so doing. They had suffered already for their faith as churchmen, and they were ready if God so willed to suffer for their faith again. The historian Trevelyan says that that little company of men who met at Woodbury and "solemnly designated [3/4] Samuel Seabury as the first Bishop of the American Episcopal Church were"--I quote Trevelyan's words--"men as noble as ever manned a forlorn hope or went down to ruin for a sacred idea." We do well to remember the faith and conviction which the action of those men showed under the conditions which they faced. And the one whom they chose was called not to worldly honour or popularity, but to sacrifice, hardship, difficulty, and trial. Like many of those who have faithfully served our Lord and His Church, Bishop Seabury has often been misrepresented but the records show what his life and character were. In view of all the facts it is astonishing that he succeeded in disarming, in some measure, the bitter prejudice against Episcopacy in Puritan New England. We have every right to be proud of our first Bishop and to give thanks to God for his life and memory. An old Chronicle of the time described Bishop Seabury as "that strong, simple, conciliatory, uncompromising man." Those adjectives are well chosen. We need in the office of Bishop and Priest today men who are "strong, simple, conciliatory, and uncompromising." We who are the spiritual heirs of those men may well ask ourselves why they made such sacrifices and endured such trials to secure the Episcopate for the Church. Can anyone imagine that they would have done this if they had believed that Episcopacy is merely one form of Church Government, and that although it is venerable and desirable it is not essential?

Those men in 1783 called Samuel Seabury to the office of Bishop in the face of all difficulties and trials because they believed that the Apostolic Ministry in its threefold order of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons is essential to the life of the Church, that it comes to us from Christ Himself, and that it is the Visible, Catholic, and Apostolic Church with its Divinely given Sacraments and Ministry which has kept, and still keeps, faith in Christ alive in this world. And the belief which those men held as to the Ministry of the Church, and on which they acted, is expressed today in our Prayer Book, in all our official formularies, and in every official act of this Church of which we are members.

Our Book of Common Prayer, which is a part of the Constitution of this Church, declares in clear and solemn words "that from the Apostles' time there have been these orders of Ministers [4/5] in Christ's Church--Bishops, Priests, and Deacons" and that "to the intent that these Orders may be continued, and reverently used and esteemed in this Church, no man shall be accounted or taken to be a lawful Bishop, Priest, or Deacon, in this Church, or suffered to execute any of the said Functions, except he . . . hath had Episcopal Consecration or Ordination."

The Episcopal Church maintains, and rejoices to maintain, warm and brotherly relations with the Protestant Churches, she has much indeed in common with Evangelical Protestantism, she gives praise to God for every evidence of devotion to Christ wherever manifested, but her own Faith and Order, as judged by the standards of the early undivided Church, are fundamentally and definitely Catholic. Her distinctive beliefs are those which have been held and taught by the Catholic Church throughout the world since the Apostles' days and she cannot compromise this position without disloyalty to her principles and disloyalty to all her past.

The Episcopal Church does not hold, as most of our Protestant brethren do, that the Church came into existence by the voluntary association of those who had been saved. The Episcopal Church holds that the Church was founded by our Lord Himself, that it is integral and vital to His Gospel and is essential to the carrying on of His work in this world, and we proclaim this belief every time we say "I believe one Catholic and Apostolic Church."

The Episcopal Church holds the Catholic doctrine of the Priesthood. No one who reads her Prayer Book, and understands it, can be in doubt as to this. It is this which constitutes the difference between the Ministry of the Episcopal Church and that of the Protestant Churches--not that one is a real Ministry and the other is not--no one I suppose holds that view--but that one is a Ministerial Priesthood, as its Form of Ordination shows, while the other does not so regard itself and definitely rejects the idea and doctrine of the Priesthood. The Episcopal Church says nothing as to the validity of Ministries not Episcopally ordained, nor as to the Sacraments administered by them--it is not in her place to do so--but for herself and for her people she holds definitely to the doctrine of the Priesthood and to the necessity of Episcopal Ordination. "In this Church," she says explicitly, "no man shall be [5/6] accounted or taken to be a lawful Bishop, Priest, or Deacon, or suffered to execute any of the said Functions, except he . . . hath had Episcopal Consecration or Ordination." But clear as the belief of this Church is in regard to the Ministry we hear it said sometimes that although the Church in her practise requires Episcopal Ordination she holds no doctrine or principle in regard to it. That statement shows a strange confusion of thought and if true would do little credit to the Church.

Whatever theories as to Episcopacy individuals may hold it is unmistakably clear that the Church herself holds a definite doctrine as to the Ministry and that she requires all her Ministers to act in accordance with her doctrine. That this Church herself holds a doctrine of the Ministry is shown beyond all doubt by the fact that a Priest of the Roman Catholic Church, or of the Eastern Orthodox Churches, who comes into the Ministry of the Anglican Communion is not reordained, whereas a Minister of any Protestant Communion, however eminent he may be, however faithful and holy may be his life, however greatly and justly we may esteem and honour him, if he enters the Ministry of the Episcopal Church, or of the Anglican Communion, must be ordained to the Priesthood through the laying on of hands by a Bishop. How can this be understood, explained, or justified, except by the fact that the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion hold the Catholic doctrine of the Priesthood and the necessity of Episcopal Ordination? If the statement were true that while this Church requires Episcopal Ordination she holds no doctrine or principle in regard to it, this would mean that the Church takes a most solemn and important course of action without holding any reason for it, and the position of the Church in this matter would be unintelligible. If that statement is true this Church's constitutional provisions as to Episcopal Ordination, her official declarations, and her official acts in. regard to it are based on no adequate reason, on no essential principle, but only on preference or expediency. And if that were true this Church would have no right to continue her position as to the Ministry for a single day--it would be her duty at once to accept the Protestant position, to say frankly that Episcopal Ordination is not necessary, to change her formularies and her age-long practise accordingly, [6/7] and so to remove this obstacle to her union with the Protestant Churches.

IF THIS Church holds no doctrine as to Episcopal Ordination her position and action in this matter is not merely inexplicable it is indefensible, and our Protestant brethren would be quite right in considering it so. But the Episcopal Church does hold a doctrine of the Ministry to which she expects her Ministers and her people to be true. Whatever liberty of view this Church allows to individuals, and she rightly allows much, and whatever theories .of Episcopacy individuals hold, or may have held, the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion are wholly committed to the principles of the Catholic and Apostolic Church in regard to the Ministry, and neither this General Convention nor any other body in the Anglican Communion has any authority whatsoever to change those principles. In common with all the historic Catholic Communions, both of the East and of the West, in common with the whole Anglican Communion throughout the world, in common with three-fourths of all the Christians in the world at this time, and in common with those loyal Connecticut churchmen who elected Samuel Seabury, this Episcopal Church holds today, as she has always held, that our Lord Himself founded His Church to be the means of His continuing work in this world, that He Himself appointed a Ministry, and that the Ministry which He Himself appointed has come down to us through the succession of the Bishops. No one who understands the official formularies of the Church can doubt that this is what the Episcopal Church holds. Except for the fact that the contrary is frequently asserted, it would seem unnecessary to say that this belief as to the Apostolic Ministry is not the mere opinion or view of some group or party in the Church but that it is the Church's own official teaching. It is expressed clearly in her Prayer Book, in her Constitution and Canons, and in her unvarying practise, and to this belief which the Church herself holds the overwhelming majority of her clergy and people, of all parties, are loyal.

In the historic phrase of one of the greatest of our American Bishops, John Henry Hobart of New York, this Episcopal Church and the Churches of the Anglican Communion throughout the world stand for "Evangelical Truth and Apostolic Order." The [7/8] famous Lambeth Quadrilateral of 1888, which was first formulated and adopted here in our own Church, under the direct suggestion and counsel not of one called an Anglo-Catholic but of that evangelical and broad-visioned leader, Dr. William Reed Huntington, declares that the Historic Episcopate is one of the four essential and indispensable principles which must be preserved in any basis for Christian Unity to which the Anglican Communion can assent. But if, as some are asserting, this Church holds no theory or doctrine as to the Episcopate how can this insistence upon it as one of the four indispensable requisites for a Reunited Christianity, and this extreme care to preserve it, be explained? The statement made by some today that modern scholarship has destroyed the grounds for belief in the Apostolic Ministry is simply incorrect and not borne out by the facts. We are aware of what modern scholarship has to say on the subject and in the full light of this it remains incontrovertible that the Church which Christ Himself founded and which His Apostles and disciples continued, brought forth the New Testament, the Creed, and the Episcopate, all under the promised guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is, of course, conceivable that the Apostolic Church acting under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, might have developed some other form of Ministry in succession to the Apostolate, but it did not. What history shows is that Ministerial Authority in the Church passed from the Apostles, and possibly the Prophets whose status is uncertain, to the Episcopate, and the Episcopate was developed and established earlier than either the Canon of Scripture or the fully formulated Creed so that, as Bishop Gore says, the threefold Ministry of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons "Is in fact, by succession, the only representative of the original Apostolate." So eminent a Protestant scholar as Prof. E. C. Moore of Harvard in his book, The New Testament in the Christian Church, tells us that it is the simple fact that the Canon of Scripture, the Creed, and the Episcopate, all stand on the same basis and all come to us with equal authority. With Dr. Streeter's recent conjectures in view, and all that modern scholarship has said on the subject, the Committee of the last Lambeth Conference in 1930 says in its report, "Without entering into the discussion of theories which divide scholars we may affirm shortly that we see no reason to doubt the statement made in the Preface to our Ordinal that [8/9] from the Apostles' time there have been these Orders of Ministers in Christ's Church--Bishops, Priests, and Deacons." "What we uphold," this Report says, "is the Episcopate maintained in successive generations by continuity of succession and consecration as it has been throughout the history of the Church from the earliest times." In its fully considered words the Lambeth Conference Report says "The Episcopate occupies a position which is, in point of historic development, analogous to that of the Canon of Scripture and of the Creeds." No words could be stronger as to the place of the Episcopate in the life of the Church, and certainly these Reports to the Lambeth Conference cannot be called the view of a mere group or party in the Church. And in his recent important pronouncement upon events in the Church of England the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose wise leadership, broad vision, and deep desire for Christian Unity, is everywhere known says "the Anglican Communion throughout the world has a distinctive heritage of Faith and Order which it cannot barter away even for the sake of union, for it is a trust which it is bound to hold for itself and for the whole Body of Christ," and the Archbishop adds that in stipulating that the Episcopate must be maintained in any United. Church of which the Anglican Churches can form a part "we are not contending for any mere form of government, however venerable."

AND SO I REPEAT that the Episcopal Church has a doctrine of the Ministry and that she holds to her belief in the Divinely Instituted Church and Ministry and Sacraments not merely from preference or expediency but because she believes they are from Christ Himself and that, if we use them aright, they keep us near to Him. In the light of all that modern scholarship has brought to view it remains clear that the Episcopate is in fact the successor to the Apostolate, that the Apostolate was the direct, commissioned representative of the Risen and Ascended Christ, and therefore that the unbroken succession of the Episcopate coming down to us from Apostolic times is the visible, living, articulate reminder and witness of God's coming into this world in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.

Those faithful men in Connecticut 150 years ago strove so earnestly and suffered so much to secure the Episcopate because [9/10] they believed in the Catholic and Apostolic Church, and because they believed that without the support of the Ministry and Sacraments according to Christ's own appointment faith in Christ Himself would falter and grow weak. And the whole course of events in our own land and elsewhere bears out their belief. Nothing is more certain, nothing is more surely proved by experience, or more evident at this time, than that loss of faith in the Divinely founded Church, and in the Divinely appointed Ministry and Sacraments, tends toward loss of faith in Christ as God and in His Gospel as a Divine Revelation. You can see this illustrated in the religious situation all around us, and you can see it illustrated within the ranks of our own Church. Is it not a fact that in our own Church, much as we love them personally, it is among those who incline to believe less in the Divinely Instituted Church and Sacraments that we see the tendency to deny, or to doubt, our Lord's Birth of the Blessed Virgin, His Resurrection from the grave, and His Ascension into Heaven?

Brethren, this is not a time for controversy over minor matters, but it is a time to speak plainly of the things upon which faith in Jesus Christ and the life of His Church depend.

The breakdown of Christian Faith and Christian Morality. is reaching the point of crisis. The Campaign of the Godless is not confined to Russia. It has gone far in our own land. From the depths of their spiritual blindness, and of their self-conceit, men prate today of a religion without God, without prayer, and without belief in a future life. You see the results of this in the weakening of our morale as a people, in the lowering of the standards of integrity and personal responsibility, in the disregard of the sacredness of contracts, in the breaking down of the ties of marriage and the family, and in the callous contempt of the Christian ideal of Purity. We are becoming largely a Pagan Nation.

The atheistic seed sown by the Bertrand Russells, the Huxleys, and the John Deweys of our time, and by their hosts of imitators, is bearing its evil fruit in our current literature and in the lives and homes of our people, and some of us who stand in the pulpits of Christian Churches are not preaching the Divine Christ as St. Paul preached Him, and as we are commanded and commissioned to preach Him to all the world.

[11] As Karl Barth has reminded us, there is a type of modernism which is giving us a merely human Jesus who has no power over the lives and consciences of men, when what the world needs is to come back to the God-man, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Christ of the Scriptures, the Christ Who is able to guide and uphold and bless us because He is Saviour, Lord, and God.

What has the modern minimizing and rationalizing, the belittling of Church and Creed and Sacrament, done for us? Has it brought men and women nearer to Christ? Has it made God more real to them? Has it increased their reverence for the holy and the pure and the good? Has it filled our homes with the spirit of love and duty, and our Churches with earnest and believing worshippers? We know that it has done none of these things but the reverse of them. What we need now in the Church is a great call to repentance and to spiritual renewal. We need a great revival of evangelistic power. We need more faith, more fervour, more personal love for the Lord Jesus, that we may give Him and His Gospel to the world. A Church full of faith in the Divine Christ can overcome all obstacles, but a Church without real faith in Christ can do nothing and will be thrown aside as useless machinery, just as many are now throwing the Church aside.

We know that the Creed, the Sacraments, the Priesthood, the Church itself, are not ends in themselves, they are only means to an end. Their one purpose is to bring us to Christ. But they are the instruments of God for this great purpose and may not be lightly regarded, they are the Divinely given means to this great end, and without them faith in Christ Himself tends to grow vague and weak, and even to disappear.

The great question for us at this Convention is not the question of the Budget, of the policy of the National Council, or whether women shall be eligible to sit as deputies in the Convention. Those matters will all be taken care of if the Divine foundations of our faith are real to us.

The great question before us is: What are we going to do about faith in our Lord Himself and in the Church as His own Body in which He still lives and works and ministers to us? It is this on which the life of the whole Christian Church depends. [11/12] And the call to us as members of this Church is clear beyond all question. We are called to show the same all conquering faith in the Ascended Christ and in His Church here on earth that we see in the pages of the New Testament. We are called to do our part as a Church to bring the whole world to Christ, and so to open the way for the coming of His Kingdom among men.

We are called to do our part to make Christ known in all His power, and in all His nearness to us here in His Church on earth, still speaking to us and blessing us through Church and Ministry and Sacrament.

We who belong to this Church are called to say with St. Paul and the whole New Testament, with the whole Christian Church from the beginning, with our own Church through all its history, and with those faithful churchmen in Connecticut, "I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ"--"I believe . . . in one Lord Jesus Christ . . . Who for us men and for our Salvation came down from heaven, And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, And was made man . . . And I believe one Catholic and Apostolic Church."

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