Geoffrey Kirk goes in search of Anglican identity

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The Episcopal Church. American Anglicans have changed their name several times. Each change of nomenclature marks a shift in ecclesiology. Though the Anglican church was established in some states before the revolution (as Presby-terianism was in others), the Protestant Episcopal Church came into existence within a Republic which had outlawed the notion of ecclesiastical establishment. Not that you would have noticed.

PECUSA adopted, in 1790 a constitution which mimicked that of the United States, and set about the task of being, not an Established Church, but the Church of the Establishment. The name located American Anglicans on the smorgasbord of denominations: 'Protestant' in common with the then majority in its repudiation of Rome, but over against the majority in retaining a form of 'Episcopal' organisation. It is a moot point how 'episcopal' the American Church is (in some dioceses the bishop does not even have a vote in the diocesan convention); but bishops had become for the American Church a badge of identity.

The Protestant Episcopal Church claimed a proud roll of founding fathers and later presidents among its members. It slowly developed a self-image as the 'natural' church of the well-heeled intelligentsia, as recent statements by Katherine Schori go to show. And as American influence in the world grew with the informal imperialism of the period after the First World War, so ECUSA (by now its Anglo-catholic wing had managed to jettison the word 'protestant') expanded with it. The church followed the multinationals.

The recent change of name to 'The Episcopal Church' marks a new departure. The emphasis is now on the international nature of the denomination - a fact which Mrs Schori emphasises at every opportunity. As the American Church distances itself from the rest of the Communion, so it increasingly asserts itself as a global alternative to it.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalAnglican IdentityAnglican ProvincesChurch of England (CoE)* TheologyEcclesiology

Posted November 27, 2007 at 5:48 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. William Tighe wrote:

I wrote this rather “academic” response to Fr. Kirk:
I appreciated and enjoyed your “What’s in a Name” piece,
but might I add something about two bits of it:

“The Church of England. The name is an ecclesiology in itself. It neatly expresses the political and theological presuppositions of the later middle ages. England was seen, in political terms as an ‘Empire’ - that is to say a wholly autonomous state with power to order its own affairs both civil and ecclesiastical. The Church by law established in such an ‘Empire’ was, in theory at least, the only Church; all others (and especially the ‘Church of Rome’) were outlawed and proscribed.  It is remarkable to the modern observer how long that view persisted. Though it could not logically survive the Civil War and the Glorious Revolution, it nevertheless continued into the twentieth century by way of the Oxford Movement. When High Churchmen referred to the CofE as ‘the Catholic Church of this land’ they were speaking as much of historical and institutional continuity as of theological positioning or colour.  In a strange way, then, the very name ‘Church of England’ contained within itself, as a defining characteristic, an essential anti-Romanism. (‘The Italian Mission to the Irish’) And that remains a constituent part of the Anglican identity to this day. It was nakedly apparent in the debates leading up to the ordination of women to the priesthood.

The Church of Ireland. Ireland was, of course, an ‘Empire’ like England. Though in fact a colony, it was in theory, an independent state with its own autonomy and institutions. The Kingdom of Ireland, the theory went, shared nothing with the Kingdom of England but its monarch. The Church by law established was therefore, in the same way, the only Church. Though concessions needed to be made from time to time to the Roman majority, the Church of Ireland reigned supreme.”

Concering “Empire” and “This Realm of England is an Empire …” of the Act in Restraint of Appeals, the explanation that you give of the notion “empire” is correct in that it was the line taken a the time of the assertion of the Royal Supremacy, and subsequently, but a Cambridge doctoral thesis in the early 1970s by one of Elton’s students, Graham Nicholson, demonstrated how Thomas Cromwell “spun” the rather different medieval notion of the sense in which “the Realm of England” was an “Empire” by adding bits of Marsilio of Padua and the early medieval (10th Century) French notion of “Rex est Imperator in Regno Suo” (directed against the claim of Otto the Great of Germany to be overlord of all the territories comprising the areas over which Charlemagne once ruled) to produce that result.  The earlier English notion of “empire” (which Nicholson found in an unpublished compilation of “precedents” for Henry’s arguments now in the Public Record Office with the general title of “Collectanea Satis Copiosa”) was that England as a realm enjoyed superiority and authority over other subordinate “realms” such as Wales, Ireland and (in the English view, down to 1329 and sporadically asserted thereafter, down to the 1540s) Scotland; it did not entail an assertion of England’s ecclesiastical self-sufficiency, merely its secular equivalent—as witness how, when Holy Roman Emperors visited England in 1413 and 1522, the English authorities staged tableaux repudiating in advance any authority or superiority that the Emperor might claim for himself over the English Realm.

As to Ireland, the English had asserted the view that their king’s Irish “Lordship” was subordinate to their “Realm” no later than the reign of Edward I—when occasional appeals from judgments of the Irish Parliament (or the “King’s Parliament of Ireland”) were made to and accepted by the English Parliament (“The King’s Parliament of England”).  This passed unquestioned after the 14th Century, although seldom acted upon thereafter, even before the hobbling of the Irish Parliament by Poyning’s Law in 1493.  In this regard, Henry VIII’s assumption of the title “King of Ireland” in 1540 did not change matters, although it certainly sowed the field for future confusion about the relationship between the two realms.  Between the 1690s and the 1720s (with some precursors extending back several decades previously) the Irish Parliament tried to assert its “coordinate equality” with the English, later British, Parliament—but the latter never accepted this, and the Irish were coerced into submission, until in 1783 the Irish Realm was made (in the aftermath of the American Revolution) a completely “independent” realm, united with that of Great Britain only in and by the person of George III, but this proved such a disastrous experience that it was wound up by the 1801 Act of Union.

November 27, 7:51 pm | [comment link]
2. Jeff Thimsen wrote:

I was going to say that.

November 27, 8:12 pm | [comment link]
3. Pageantmaster ن wrote:

Maybe the Church of England was due to an idea of ‘empire’ but am I right in believing that it was a term used prior to the break with Rome?  It does of course consist of the sees of York and Canterbury.  If it was, is it not likely to have been because England itself was an ‘empire’ of seven or so kingdoms who merged or were annexed.  The CofE as far as I am aware does not have, and has not had, jurisdiction over Wales, Scotland or Ireland, all of which have their own churches, some established and some not and where, for example in Scotland, the Anglican church was actually disestablished to the benefit of another.

November 27, 8:31 pm | [comment link]
4. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

Although a lot could be said in reply to Fr. Kirk’s take on the significance of the various changes in our name (PECUSA, ECUSA, TEC) I will simply call attention to a couple of strikingly odd things about them.  First, the adoption of a name (PECUSA) including “Episcopal” in it was rather amazing when the 13 Colonies managed to get along from 1607 until the 1780s without an Anglican bishop ever setting foot on American soil or conducting any ordinations or confirmations here.  That is especially surprising when Anglicanism was the established church in four colonies (Virginia, both of the Carolinas, and Georgia), and yet there was great resistance to English “prelates” having any authority on these shores.  They weren’t welcome, even in Virginia.  And Samuel Seabury was only consecrated for Connecticut in 1784.  So the sudden pride in being a church with “bishops” shortly after the Revolution was over is highly significant.  I guess that once the formal ties with the C of E were dropped, we needed some other way to show our superiority to the other “lesser” Protestant groups.

Second, as has been often noted elsewhere, the recent change from ECUSA to TEC has struck many observers as an incredibly insensitive one in the context of our troubled relations with the wider Anglican Communion.  For there are eight other Anglican provinces that include the word “Episcopal” in their name, such as the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Church of the Philippines, and the Episcopal Church of Sudan.  To call itself simply “THE Episcopal Church” certainly comes off as arrogant in that light, as if these other Anglican provinces don’t exist and their names don’t matter.  Now THAT might be an example of American “imperialism,” and one that the Archbishop of Canterbury could rightly and properly criticize.  Yet ironically, he has never condemned such ecclesiastical imperialism like he recently has our American military adventures.  Strange, is it not?

November 27, 9:45 pm | [comment link]
5. TomRightmyer wrote:

In the 18th century the Church of England was known as the “Episcopal” church in New England, where the Congregational church was supported by taxes in Massachusetts (including Maine) and Connecticut. Members of the Church of England tended to be new immigrants from England and Protestant Ireland, and in mid-century conservative or Old Light Congregationalists forced out by the Great Awakening. Clergy included immigrants, second-generation immigrants and Old Yankees including the Yale Converts of 1722 and their students.  They received something over half their support from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.

The Church of England was also called the Episcopal church in the middle colonies where churches were supported by the SPG and by local subscription.

In Maryland where there was a signficant Roman Catholic population the Church of England was known as the Protestant church - as it was in Ireland from whence came a number of immigrants.

The best book on the history of the name Protestant Episcopal is by Shoemaker.

The efforts to drop “Protestant” in the early 20th century were led by Anglo-Catholics and high churchmen, motivated by the change in the common meaning of the word in American speech.  Their success is a sign of the declining influence of conservative Evangelicalism in the century from 1873 to 1973 and the increased influence of liberal evangelical catholic thought.

Tom Rightmyer in Asheville, NC

November 27, 9:54 pm | [comment link]
6. WilliamS wrote:

As a point of historical interest, PECUSA was not the first post-revolution American Church to use the word ‘Episcopal’ in its title: on December 24, 1784 (five years before PECUSA) the Methodist Episcopal Church was formally established.

November 27, 10:00 pm | [comment link]
7. TomRightmyer wrote:

At the time of the Christmas Conference in 1784 when the Methodist Episcopal church was organized there were no bishops in the Anglican succession in America. Samuel Seabury had been consecrated in Scotland six weeks before and was on his way back to Connecticut. William White and Samuel Provoost were consecrated for Pennsylvania and New York in England in 1787, James Madison for Virginia in 1790. The four of them joined in the consecration of Thomas John Claggett for Maryland in 1792. 

The American succession nearly failed in 1811.  Only Bishop White and Samuel Jarvis, Seabury’s successor in Connecticut, were present at General Convention May 21-24 in New Haven, and though the consecrations of John Henry Hobart for New York and Alexander Viets Griswold for the Eastern Diocese (New England except Conecticut) were approved, their consecration was delayed until May 29 when White, having persuaded Provoost out of retirement, gathered the three bishops and did the deed.

Tom Rightmyer in Asheville, NC

November 27, 10:54 pm | [comment link]
8. William Tighe wrote:

Re: #3,

“The CofE as far as I am aware does not have, and has not had, jurisdiction over Wales, Scotland or Ireland ...”

Wales, the four Welsh dioceses, was part of the Province of Canterbury of the Church of England from a little before the Norman Conquest down to disestablishment there in 1920.

From before the conquest, likewise, successive Archbishops of York claimed that all of Scotland (except for the Orkneys and the isle of Man, which were dependent upon the Archdiocese of Trondheim until the late 14th/early 15th century), or at least the Diocese of Galloway, were part of the Province of York.  In order to escape this claim, Scotland came directly under the Holy See, with Rome as its primate, in the 14th Century, down until the archdioceses of St. Andrews and Glasgow were erected in the 1470s.

Ireland was never under the Church of England, although in the 13th century Canterbury tried to claim a loose superiority over Ireland, or at least Dublin.

During the late 1620s and throughout the 1630s there were widespread fears in both Ireland and Scotland that Archbishop Laud had ambitions to become “Patriarch” of all Britain, and to subordinate the Churches of Ireland and Scotland to his “patriarchal” authority.  There is no sign whatsoever in his own writings and letters that he entertained such a notion.

November 27, 10:54 pm | [comment link]
9. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

All right, since this thread seems to be turning into a history lesson, I hope some of you more knowledgable historians can help clear up a common misunderstanding that seems to crop up in Fr. Kirk’s original piece.  The English priest draws attention to the often-noted similarity between the PECUSA Constitution and the federal Constitution of the USA. Now because both constitutions were hammered out in Philadelphia at roughly the same time, and drawn up by many of the same men (they all were men of course), and according to many of the same principles, they do invite comparison, and it’s no accident they have so much in common.

My question for you history buffs is this:  Wouldn’t it be true to say that actually the PECUSA Constitution resembles the earlier failed Articles of Federation more than the later national Constitution?  To me, it has always seemed that the Protestant Episcopal Church deliberately kept a very weak central federal authority and invested much more power in the dioceses, just like the Articles did with the states.  But whereas James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay wrote reams of essays in the famous Federalist Papers to justify the stronger role of the federal government in the new Constitution, I’m not aware of any similar debate raging within the Church.  But maybe I’m just ignorant.

But regardless, the really important thing, it seems to me, is the radical difference in how our national ecclesiastical authority is structured in contrast with our secular government.  For whereas, our political life has thrived under the careful balancing of powers between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, it seems indisputable to me that we have suffered terribly in TEC because there is no counterweight to the virtually unchallenged power of the General Convention.  If General Convention is the Church’s legislative branch, it is highly significant, and highly problematic, that there is really no corresponding executive or judicial branches.  Certainly the Presiding Bishop is nothing like the U.S. President, and has no real cabinet or national executive powers.  And most important of all, there is nothing like the Supreme Court to rule acts of General Convention null and void because they are deemed unconstitutional.

I bring this up, because I have long been convinced that this is a fundamental design flaw in our polity.  And it is a very serious problem.  Our present strife shows that it may even be a fatal one.  For I would earnestly and stoutly contend that the real Constitution of any Christian Church worthy of the name is the Bible.  It is the supreme authority, to which all church legislation must conform, or it is rightly to be regarded as “unconstitutional” and unenforcable (e.g., see the old Articles 6 and 20 of the famous/infamous 39 Articles).  But for such an idea to work there must be some kind of universally recognized body that can declare such acts of General Convention contrary to Scripture and thus voided.  The lack of provision for any such judicial body in our church system leaves an ominous and intolerable vacuum that makes our system very imbalanced and dangerous, for there is no real check on the power of General Convention.  Alas, we are now reaping the bitter fruit of that severe flaw in our system of church government.  Reforming our polity simply must be a part of the New Reformation.  Maybe a blue chip panel of experts could be appointed by the Primates to exercise such a role within the wider Anglican Communion, but that is really another subject entirely since it involves an international check on the legislative power of provinces.  For the moment, what I’m saying is that our lack of any EXPLICIT control over the unlimited powers of General Convention (which theoretically are under the IMPLICIT control of Holy Scripture in classical Anglican understanding) is a devastating problem that cries out for correction.

Anyone agree with me?

David Handy+

November 27, 11:00 pm | [comment link]
10. William Tighe wrote:

“Wouldn’t it be true to say that actually the PECUSA Constitution resembles the earlier failed Articles of (Con)Federation more than the later national Constitution?”

I think so.

November 27, 11:15 pm | [comment link]
11. Pageantmaster ن wrote:

#8 Thank you Prof Tighe - that is very interesting.

November 27, 11:20 pm | [comment link]
12. The_Archer_of_the_Forest wrote:

“Geoffrey Kirk goes in search of Anglican identity”

Ummm…yeah…good luck with that.

November 27, 11:33 pm | [comment link]
13. Tom Roberts wrote:

#10 nails one of the biggest presenting issues. The lack of an effective executive doomed the Articles of Confederation. Personalities aside (though the last PBs have uniformly failed personally), ecusa is cursed with the same political issues. The plaintive bleating that the PB cannot decide anything for General Convention is prima facie evidence of the same defect.

November 27, 11:36 pm | [comment link]
14. Stephen Noll wrote:

A quick, unscholarly note from Uganda. The official name here is “The Church of Uganda (Anglican).” However, it has gone through several changes.  At first, it was called The Native Anglican Church, which was not a slur, since Bishop Alfred Tucker was insistent that the church be led by nationals (a vision which was lost somewhat on later missionary bishops). At some point, perhaps independence in 1962, the name was changed to “The Church of Uganda,” and this reflected the ubiquity of this church throughout the country and probably a claim to precedence over the Roman Catholic Church, which was its sister and rival from Day One in 1876. I believe the (Anglican) was added in the last 25 years, as stronger awareness of the Anglican Communion emerged. In English, it is common to speak only of “The Church of Uganda”; in the vernacular the Church is referred to as the “Evangelical” i.e., the Protestant, Church, to be distinguished from the Roman Catholic and now Pentecostal churches.

November 28, 12:01 am | [comment link]
15. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

Dr. Tighe (#10),
Thank you.  Since we clashed on a different thread recently (about WO) I’m happy to find that we are in agreement here.  I’m also glad you corrected my garbled allusion to the failed Articles of CONfederation (without highlighting my ignorant mangling of the name).  More importantly, I’m grateful you confirmed my interpretation of PECUSA’s weak central authority as resembling that severly flawed first try at creating a new government. 

The irony is that it only took a few years for our founding fathers to realize that the Articles of Confederation simply weren’t working and everyone recognized that the system didn’t just need tweaking but had to be replaced.  Alas, TEC still hasn’t caught on yet, even after over 200 years and all our recent “unpleasantness.”

I repeat a claim buried in #9 above:  An overhaul of our polity simply must be a part of “The New Reformation.”  Of course, TEC will never accept it.  So, as far as I’m concerned, goodbye to TEC.

November 28, 12:07 am | [comment link]
16. Id rather not say wrote:

There is a story to the effect that “the Episcopal Church” was the only church in the Anglican Communion which actually had the word “Protestant” in its title, and that the the Anglican Church in Japan (the Nippon Se Ko Kai, or Holy Catholic Church in Japan), founded by American missionaries from the Episcopal Church, would have been named “the Protestant Episcopal Church of Japan” except that, it turned out, when “protestant episcopal church” was translated into Japanese, it came out as “the church of the quarreling overseers.”

November 28, 1:36 am | [comment link]
17. Sir Highmoor wrote:

#16 - The Church of the Quarreling Overseers - I think that sums up the present mess!

November 28, 5:26 am | [comment link]
18. Katherine wrote:

IRNS, #16, is your blog defunct?  Is defunct?

November 28, 10:58 am | [comment link]
19. Br_er Rabbit wrote:

Very interesting thread. Thank you, all.

November 28, 6:35 pm | [comment link]
20. Br_er Rabbit wrote:

WHAT’S IN A NAME? Overnight reflection brought to mind these thoughts:

Some of the root causes of the upcoming Great Schism of the Anglican church can be seen in the self-applied names after the Great Schism of 1054. At that time the One Church (although there must have been splinter groups that were simply ignored) split into East vs. West; but East Church vs. West Church (nor even The Church of Rome vs. The Church of Constantinople)  were not the primary names the two sides ended up with.

No, the self-chosen names of the two sides ended up as The Universal Church (catholic = “universal”) and The Church[es] of the Correct Teaching (orthodox = “correct teaching”). Thus the Roman Catholic church denied the capability of the East to effect a division, and took upon themselves the claim of being The Only Church, while the Orthodox Church[es] rejected this claim of Rome and divided anyway—in the name of being not the only church, but the Only Church[es] with the Correct Teaching.

I’m struck by the similarity to the names the two sides of the current schism are attempting to claim for themselves today: The Church of the Overseers (episcopal = “overseer”) denies the ability of the other side to split (“You can leave us but you can’t divide us”) while The REAL-Church-That-Started-In-England (anglican = “really english”) claims to be the Only (Anglican) Church with the Correct (Anglican) Teaching.

Another similarity is the time that it takes for a Great Schism to come into effect (you historians, please correct me if I am wrong in this). The Great Schism of the Anglican Church started at least in 1873, over a century and a quarter ago, which reflects the long period over which the Great Schism of 1054 came to a head.

Perhaps this is simply tautology for all schisms. One side becomes calcified in its self-assumed singular authority while the other side becomes calcified in its self-assumed singular teaching, and mutual conversation becomes irrelevant as they talk past each other. I invite all of you to reflect on this possibilitiy and respond.

(I realize that the Great Schism of 1054 had several other causes and the one I’m proposing here may or may not have been the root cause then. I’m simply reflecting on the Names We Choose For Ourselves.)

...back in the Briar Patch,

November 29, 8:38 am | [comment link]
21. Id rather not say wrote:


Just for the record (since I sent you an e-mail already), RatherNotBlog lives—or shall live, but almost certainly at a new location.  Stay tuned.

November 29, 2:39 pm | [comment link]
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