Thursday, 4 February 2010

The Anglican Communion (3): The development of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral

Patrick Comerford

Two weeks ago, we looked at the first Lambeth Conference in 1867, and the significance of the very fact that it had met. Last week, we looked at the vision of Anglicanism formulated three years later by William Reed Huntington (1838-1909) in his book, The Church Idea. [See quotes from Huntington below.]

But before Huntingdon’s quadrilateral came before the worldwide Anglican Communion, the bishops met once again at a second Lambeth Conference, in 1876.

Lambeth 2:

In the intervening years, between the first Lambeth Conference in 1867 and the second conference in 1876, the Church of Ireland was disestablished. But the first Lambeth Conference had shown that the bishops of the Established Church of England could maintain inter-communion with the bishops of non-established churches, such as Scotland and the US, and so disestablishment was not a barrier to maintaining communion.

Archbishop Archibald Cambell Tait ... called the second Lambeth Conference

The second Lambeth Conference was called by Archibald Campbell Tait (1811-1882), Archbishop of Canterbury, who was born and raised a Scottish Presbyterian. He became an Anglican at Oxford, was Dean of Carlisle at the age of 38, Bishop of London at 45, and became Archbishop of Canterbury at the 57, a year after the first Lambeth Conference. Disraeli chose Tait as Archbishop of Canterbury because he saw him as a strong foil to both the “Rits” and the “Rats” – the Ritualists and the Rationalists in the Church of England.

Tait had supported Dean Arthur Stanley in refusing to allow the use of Westminster Abbey in connection with the first Lambeth conference, and he had been a vociferous supporter of John Colenso, the Bishop of Natal, whose controversial writings and refusal to resign had triggered the first Lambeth Conference.

Tait would only agree to calling a second Lambeth Conference if:

● there were grave matters to be discussed;

● it was accepted that the conference could have no role in defining doctrine;

● it was accepted that the formularies of the Church of England were subject to interpretation in English law; and

● it was accepted that another conference would have no power to pass resolutions or canons that were binding on individual bishops or the constituent member churches of the Anglican Communion.

Lichfield Cathedral, with Selwyn House to the right ... Bishop Selwyn of Lichfield was the prime supporter of a second Lambeth Conference (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2007)

The prime English supporter of a second conference was the Tractarian Bishop of Lichfield, George Augustus Selwyn (1809-1878).

Selwyn was only 32 when he was consecrated Bishop of New Zealand in 1841, and had introduced synodical government to the Anglican Church in New Zealand. As Primate of New Zealand, he had been a key figure at the first Lambeth Conference, acting as corresponding secretary. During that Lambeth Conference, he accepted an invitation to become Bishop of Lichfield, and moved there in 1868. There he also introduced synodical government for his new diocese, and his ideas on synodical church government had a strong influence on the constitution accepted by the Church of Ireland immediately after disestablishment.

The tomb of Bishop Selwyn in Lichfield Cathedral ... his introduction of synodical government in his diocese transformed many parts of the Anglican Communion (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2007)

Apart from Selwyn, 42 of the 46 American bishops signed a petition in 1874 asking for a second, and a longer, Lambeth conference.

When the second conference was called, the Church of England bishops in the Province of York accepted the invitation enthusiastically. And, while Dean Stanley was still prepared to refuse the use of Westminster Abbey, he was not given the opportunity – instead, Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London was used for the opening service.

The invitations to attend the second Lambeth Conference were sent to 173 bishops (compared to 144 in 1867), and 108 accepted (compared with 76 in 1867). The actual attendance from 2 to 27 July 1876 was 100, a higher proportion of the Anglican episcopate than in 1867. The nine Irish bishops who took part were the Archbishops of Armagh and Dublin, and the bishops of Meath, Down, Killaloe, Limerick, Derry, Cashel and Ossory.

The second conference, like the first one, was also introspective. Of the six subjects on the agenda, three were really a continuation of the first conference:

● the relationships between the various Churches of the Anglican Communion;

● establishing a projected Board of Arbitration; and

● the relationship of missionary bishops and missionaries overseas to the local church.

The debate on the relationship between missionary bishops and the place of missionaries in the overseas churches had important implications for Anglican unity and for the future cohesion of the Anglican Communion.

Thankfully, the bishops resisted a proposal to accept in principle the idea of having one bishop for chaplains ministering to European communities and another for those missionaries ministering to “native” Christians.

As one commentator has written, “then the Anglican Church would have written into its heart an apartheid as adamant as an Afrikaaner’s.”

Question for discussion:

What does this mean for Anglican unity today?


The new items on the agenda at the second Lambeth Conference included a discussion on modern forms of infidelity and the best way of dealing with them; and the condition, progress and needs of the various Churches of the Anglican Communion. The questions of ritual included private confession, which the conference agreed should not be compelled for anyone.

The decree on papal infallibility, which was promulgated at the first Vatican Council eight years earlier, was condemned. There was a general concern among the bishops that new legislation would make divorce easier. The bishops also discussed the possibility of inter-communion with the Old Catholics. And they called for an Annual Day of Prayer for Christian Unity.

In retrospect and with hindsight, it is difficult to grasp that no formal resolution was passed calling for another, third Lambeth conference.

Once again, there were few momentous decisions. Nevertheless, the calling of a second conference turned the Lambeth Conference from an occasion into an institution.

When Tait died in 1882 and was succeeded as Archbishop of Canterbury by Edward White Benson (1829-1896), there was no doubt that a third Lambeth conference would be called.

Meanwhile, in the USA …

Meanwhile, in the United States, William Reed Huntington’s ideas contained in his quadrilateral were beginning to stir responses.

Huntington was Rector of All Saints’ Church in Worcester, Massachusetts, at the time his book, The Church Idea, was published. It has been suggested that he first articulated his Quadrilateral idea in the late 1860s to his colleagues in a local ecumenical clergy fellowship in Worcester, Massachusetts, of which he was the co-founder with his neighbour, Father John Power of Saint Paul’s Roman Catholic Parish, and in a sermon he preached in his parish in 1870.

Dante described Peschiera as a fortress beautiful and strong ... four Italian fortress cities inspired Huntington’s numbering of his principles (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2007)

Huntington’s numbering of his four principles was inspired, he said, by the four fortress cities in the Veneto and Lombardy – Mantua, Verona, Peschiera and Legnano – which had provided the Hapsburgs with the means of keeping control of northern Italy from 1815 to 1859.

But in essence the political climate that helped Huntington to develop his ideas was the new unity in America brought about by the end of the Civil War in 1865. He was one of several Anglicans in America who turned their attention to this issue at this time; others included William Augustus Muhlenberg, Thomas H. Vail, and Edward A. Washburn.

Huntington was also echoing but altering the six visible signs of the Church that had been developed by Frederick Denison Maurice in The Kingdom of Christ (1838).

Huntington’s Quadrilateral was adopted overwhelmingly by the American House of Bishops at their meeting in Chicago on 20 October 1886. However, the Chicago resolution added the word “historic” to the fourth point about the “episcopate,” and the US bishops those four points were passed on by to the next Lambeth Conference in 1888.

Lambeth 3 (1888):

Archbishop Edward White Benson (1829-1896) (right), who succeeded Tait as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1882, called the third Lambeth Conference in 1888.

Benson had been a public school master at Rugby and Wellington, and is better remembered for the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols, which he introduced at Truro Cathedral on Christmas Eve 1880, than for his role in consolidating the Lambeth Conference as an institution underpinning the Anglican Communion.

In 1886, without any petition from abroad, Benson sent out 211 invitations, calling the third Lambeth conference in 1888 and asking for suggestions for the agenda.

In all, 145 bishops attended the third Lambeth Conference, from 3 to 27 July 1888. The 11 Irish bishops present were the Archbishops of Armagh and Dublin, and the Bishops of Meath, Derry, Kilmore, Clogher, Limerick, Cashel, Cork, Ossory and Killaloe. And there were other Irish-born bishops present too, including Bishop Magee of Peterborough, who would later become Archbishop of York, and Bishop Lewis of Ontario.

One of the principle items on Benson’s agenda was the relationship between the Anglican Churches and the other Christian Churches. Other agenda items included: intemperance, purity, the care of immigrants, and socialism. The bishops at the third Lambeth Conference were deeply concerned at the high figures for emigration from both Britain and Ireland, they commended co-operatives, and they agreed that “between socialism, as thus defined, and Christianity there is obviously no necessary contradiction.”

Indeed, the bishops accepted that “much of what is good and true in Socialism is to be found in the precepts of Christ,” and they spoke of the need to move beyond charity to social and Christian duty. They also discussed Sunday observance, polygamy and divorce.

But their most important discussion was focussed on ecumenical relations, particularly with the Eastern Churches, the Scandinavian “and other Reformed Churches,” the Old Catholics, “and others” – note that there was no specific mention of Rome in this agenda item, but there was a hope that the Gallican movement in France would develop “towards establishing a basis for intercommunion between the Churches of France and England.”

Huntington’s quadrilateral was adopted and endorsed, as Resolution 11 (see below), with a number of other alterations in addition to those made at Chicago:

Point 1, on the Holy Scriptures, was embellished with material from Article 6 in the 39 Articles.

Point 2, on the Primitive Creeds, was embellished with material from Article 8.

Point 3, on the Sacraments, was rephrased with material from Article 25.

Interestingly, the Lambeth Conference did not change the wording of Point 4, leaving intact the term “historic episcopate,” even though it would have been possible to draw from Article 36.

When the American General Convention of the Episcopal Church in the US met in Chicago in 1895, it adopted the Lambeth revision of the quadrilateral, so that it has since become known as the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral.

What is the status of the Quadrilateral?

The resolutions of Lambeth Conferences are not binding. The only moral authority they have is that they may be considered as the mind and thinking of the majority of the bishops then attending a Lambeth conference. In that sense, the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral does not have a guaranteed place in fundamental Anglican canon law.

Nevertheless, in 1979, the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral was bound in with the American Book of Common Prayer as one of the “Historical Documents of the Church,” along with the Definition of Chalcedon, the Quicunque Vult (the Athanasian Creed), the Preface to the first Book of Common Prayer, and the Articles of Religion.

In the Anglican Church in Japan, the wording of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral is included in the “General Principles in common with the Holy Catholic Church throughout the world.”

In Canada, the Anglican Church of Canada has entrenched in its constitution what amounts to a fuller form of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral.

For over a century, therefore, the four points of Huntington’s Quadrilateral, as altered at Chicago and at Lambeth, have been seen as the distinctive characteristics of Anglican ecclesiology.

They remain the Anglican basis for discussing unity with other churches, and these four points remain the cornerstone and standard by which the Episcopal Church (TEC) and many of the member churches of the Anglican Communion approach questions of unity with other churches.

What happened to Huntington?

By the time his proposals were adopted by the bishops in Chicago, William Reed Huntington had become the Rector of Grace Church (right) in Broadway, New York (1883-1909), and he became the most influential member of the House of Deputies in the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in the USA (TEC).

No one label defines Huntington’s churchmanship adequately. He was both practical and mystical by temperament. Although he declined many invitations to election as a bishop, he accepted honorary doctorates from Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Princeton and other universities.

In two further books – The Peace of the Church (1891) and A National Church (1898) – Huntington commented on and developed his quadrilateral. In this last book, he proposed church unity on national but non-denominational lines, involving an organic union of American churches on the basis of territorial units by state and county. He believed this could be accomplished on the basis of his Quadrilateral rather than the 39 Articles and the Book of Common Prayer, and he wrote that the articles ought “not continue to be considered … one of the essentials of the Anglican position.”

He was the inspiration and principal author of the 1892 revision of Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer. He pursued this revision because he was convinced it would aid the cause of church unity, not only by attention to the patristic sources, but also by the principles of flexibility, adaptability and revisability.

His progressive ideas on the role of women in the Church were far ahead of their time, and it was he who established the order of deaconesses in the Episcopal Church. He also helped found the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City, contributing its iconographic plans and serving as a trustee for 22 years.

At the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in 1907, Huntington’s final agenda was revealed in his two-fold proposal to add the Quadrilateral by way of a preamble to the national written Constitution of the Episcopal Church but also to remove the 39 Articles from their place in the Book of Common Prayer. In the end, both proposals were defeated, and Huntington died within two years at the age of 71.

The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, which owes its origins to Huntington, is now printed in the American Book of Common Prayer (pp. 876-878), and he is commemorated in the calendar of the Episcopal Church on 27 July. The chapel of Saint Ansgar (consecrated in 1918) is Huntingdon’s memorial in the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine.

Supplemental quotes from Huntington

Huntington was worried about what the word Anglicanism conveyed, and its nostalgic appeal. He wrote in The Church Idea:

“The word [Anglicanism] brings up before the eyes of some a flutter of surplices, a vision of village spires and cathedral towers, a somewhat stiff and stately company of deans, prebendaries and choristers, and that is about all.” [Page 124.]

And he warned:

“If our whole ambition as Anglicans in America be to continue a small, but eminently respectable body of Christians, and to offer a refuge to people of refinement and sensibility, who are shocked by the irreverences they are apt to encounter elsewhere; in a word, if we are to be only a countercheck and not a force in society; then let us say as much in plain terms, and frankly renounce all claims to Catholicity. We have only, in such a case, to wrap the robe of our dignity about us, and walk quietly along in a seclusion no one will take much trouble to disturb. Thus may we be a Church in name, and a sect in deed.”

But Huntington’s vision of the church was formed by a very deep theology. He wrote:

“But if we aim at something nobler than this, if we would have our Communion become national in very truth,-- in other words, if we would bring the Church of Christ into the closest possible sympathy with the throbbing, sorrowing, sinning, repenting, aspiring heart of this great people, -- then let us press our reasonable claims to be the reconciler of a divided household, not in a spirit of arrogance (which ill befits those whose best possessions have come to them by inheritance), but with affectionate earnestness and intelligent zeal.” [Page 159.]

Huntington’s four principles:

● The Holy Scriptures as the Word of God;
● The Primitive Creeds as the Rule of Faith;
● The two Sacraments ordained by Christ himself;
● The Episcopate as the key-stone of Governmental Unity.

The Chicago Quadrilateral (1886):

● The Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament and New Testament as the revealed Word of God;
● The Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian Faith.
● The two Sacraments – Baptism and the Supper of the Lord – ministered with unfailing use of Christ’s words of institution and the elements ordained by him.
● The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church.

The Lambeth Quadrilateral (1888):

● The Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament and New Testaments, as “containing all things necessary to salvation,” and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.
● The Apostles’ Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian Faith.
● The two Sacraments ordained by Christ Himself – Baptism and the Supper of the Lord – ministered with unfailing use of Christ’s words of institution, and the elements ordained by him.
● The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the Unity of His Church.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This lecture was delivered on Thursday 4 February 2010 as part of the Year III B.Th. course on Anglicanism.