Friday, 22 February 2013

Church History (full-time) 9.3, Revolution and enlightenment: old certainties challenged


The French Revolution by Delacroix (1830) ... the 18th century is known as the Age of Reason, or the Age of Revival, but was also the Age of Revolution

Patrick Comerford,

Church of Ireland Theological Institute,

Church History Elective (TH 7864)

Friday 22 February 2013, 9 .a.m. to 12 noon:

11 a.m.: 9.3:
Revolution and enlightenment: old certainties challenged

After our first two sessions this morning, it might be easy to see the 18th century, in terms of Church History, as the century of mission and expansion.

However, the Canadian church historian, Gerald Cragg, has described the age we are dealing with in this module as “The Age of Reason.” But we could equally also call this “The Age of Revival” or even the “Age of Revolution.”

It is a constant debate within Church History whether the rise of Methodism and the preaching and impact of the Wesley brothers forestalled a revolution in England?

As we explore this period in the history of the Church (1660-1800), we cannot ignore the social and political impact of Methodism. Nor can we ignore its impact on the Church of Ireland.

At the same time, as we consider the wider political and social context in which the Church of Ireland found itself, we have to realise that there is a clear link connecting Bunker Hill, the Bastille and Boolavogue.

And we also have to take account of the impact of the American Revolution on the Episcopal Church and the future shape of the Anglican Communion; the impact of the French Revolution on French Church, and more generally on the whole Christian Church; and, of course, the impact of the 1798 Rising on the Church in Ireland and the Church of Ireland.

Methodism



John Wesley ... his Journal records his travels over 250,000 miles, and he visited Ireland 21 times in a 42-year period from 1747 to 1789 Jakob Spenner and the rise of Pietism in Germany in the late 17th century, and Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield and the Great Awakening in America at the beginning of the 18th century are the expressions of two movements – the Pietists and the Great Awakening – that had important influences on the Wesley brothers and the rise of Methodism later in the 18th century.

The sobriquet “Methodist” was originally given in 1729 to a group at Oxford known as the Holy Club and led by John Wesley (1703-1791). Wesley traced the “first rise” of Methodism to those early years, and the second stage to 1736 when the “rudiments of a Methodist society” appeared in Georgia, where the Wesley brothers, John and Charles, were working as Anglican priests and missionaries with the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG, now Us).

During their voyage to America, and their stay in Georgia, the Wesley brothers were deeply influenced by the Moravians, who in turn had taken on much of the teachings and experiences of the German Pietists. But John Wesley alienated the colonists, and returned to England in 1737.

Then, in 1738, Wesley helped to reframe the rules of an Anglican society that met in Fetter Lane, London.

Once again, the Wesleys were in close contact with the Moravians in London, and within three days of each other in May 1738 the brothers John and Charles had vital Christian experiences – what John described as his heart being “strangely warmed” when a passage was being read from Martin Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans.

We could see this as the turning point in the Evangelical Revival on this side of the Atlantic. The Wesleys preached throughout Britain and Ireland: John Wesley’s Journal records his travels over 250,000 miles, and he visited Ireland 21 times in a 42-year period from 1747 to 1789.

When John Wesley found the doors of Anglican churches closed to him, he followed the example of George Whitefield, and preached in the open.

The first Methodist Conference met in 1744, and the first Methodist circuits were organised as early as 1746. Methodism gained strong positions throughout Ireland, England and Wales, but notably made slower headway in Scotland.

In America, Methodism owed its beginnings to two Irish emigrants, Robert Strawbridge from Drumsna, who settled in Maryland, and Philip Embury, who settled in New York.

The break with Anglicanism came when John Wesley decided to ordain local preachers for areas in which Methodists could not receive the sacraments. Although Wesley hoped that Methodism could stay within the boundaries of Anglicanism, and he died an Anglican priest, Methodism became a separate organisation and a separate church.

The American Revolution of 1776

Although the American Revolution pre-dated the French revolution by 13 years, many of the American revolutionaries owed a lot to French thinking at the time. This contained a strong element of religious polemic and debate.

The political philosophy of the American revolutionaries had much in common with, in some places, René Descartes (1596-1650), the French philosopher who has been called the “Father of Modern Philosophy,” and, in others, with Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), who began life in Geneva as a Calvinist, moved to France where he converted to Catholicism, returned to Geneva and reconverted to Calvinism, and then ended his days in France as a Deist.

The American Declaration of Independence appeals to God as the ultimate source of justification for the liberties demanded by the authors, and the appeal to self-evident truth, in order to justify the basis of the Declaration, can be traced to Descartes.

Karl Barth (1886-1968) observed that the Declaration of Independence represented a Calvinism gone to seed, although its principal author, Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) was a Deist at heart and owed much to English and French political theory.

In the Declaration, the American revolutionaries declared:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

The impact on the Episcopal/Anglican Church:

After the American Revolution, many Anglicans fled New England, moving north and settling in Canada. There, Anglicanism has been strongly influenced by a steady flow of clergy and missionaries from the Church of Ireland.

Anglicans who remained in the new United States after the revolution felt isolated from the Church of England, whose bishops were unwilling or unable to provide new bishops to serve the new church.

The first American bishop was not secured for another 18 years, until 1784 – the same year American Methodists broke with Anglicanism as a consequence of John Wesley’s ordinations of a superintendent or bishop for America. That same year saw the consecration of Samuel Seabury (1729-1796) by bishops from the nonjuring Episcopal Church of Scotland.

Although Seabury was elected Bishop of Connecticut in 1783, the bishops of the Church of England found they could not consecrate him because he could not take the Oath of Allegiance. As a consequence, the “high” liturgy of the Episcopalians of Scotland strongly influenced the Episcopal Church in America for generations.


The King’s Chapel was the first Anglican or Episcopalian church in Boston, and the first church in the US to call itself a Unitarian church.

As an aside, we should also note that, although Unitarian teachings in America first arose among the Congregationalists of New England, the first preacher to call himself a “Unitarian” was a post-independence Episcopalian, James Freeman (1759-1835). King’s Chapel, which had been founded in 1686, was the first Anglican or Episcopalian Church in Boston and in New England.

The Rector, the Revd Henry Caner, a Loyalist, had been forced to leave in 1776 when the British troops evacuated Boston. Freeman was chosen as the minister of the King’s Chapel in 1782, and he immediately set about revising The Book of Common Prayer for use in his church.

Bishop Samuel Seabury refused to ordain Freeman, who had been chosen as the minster of the King’s Chapel, and in 1785 Freeman turned the King’s Chapel in Boston into the first Unitarian church in North America. The church continues to use its own unique Anglican-Unitarian hybrid liturgy.

The French Revolution of 1789


Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) and Voltaire (1694-1778) ... two of the key writers and thinkers in the wave of revolutionary thought that led to the French Revolution

Two of the key writers and thinkers in the wave of revolutionary thought that led to the French Revolution were Rousseau and Voltaire.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) was, in turn, a Protestant, a Catholic, and a Deist. Rousseau argued that people, if left to themselves, are noble and good. Instead of the concept of the divine right of kings, he put forward the concept of the Social Contract (1762), which would pave the way for the American Declaration of Independence (1776) and, of course, the French Revolution.

Voltaire, the alias used by Francois-Marie Arouet (1694-1778), believed God was to be adored and served, not to be argued over or made the object of institutional religion. Voltaire attacked the Church with remorseless wit, and saw nothing in it but deceit and corruption. His monumental works was his Philosophical Dictionary, based on his articles for Denis Diderot’s Encyclopaedia, first published secretly in 1759.

The French Revolution was a revolution against the excesses of both church and state. Most of the land was owned by the nobility or the clergy. Although violence was not part of the original plan for social change of either Rousseau or Voltaire, the Bastille was attacked on 14 July 1789, the prisoners were freed, and the building was razed to the ground.

Within a month, a “Declaration on the Rights of Man” was promulgated, at the suggestion of Bishop Talleyrand (1754-1838), and Church lands were taken into public ownership in an attempt to finance the revolutionary changes taking place.

Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord is an interesting figure in the French revolution. A prince by birth, he became Bishop of Autun in 1789. That year he joined the revolution, and became a member of the Constitutional Assembly, taking the oath to the Civil Constitution, and consecrating as bishops priests who were prepared to take that oath as bishops to fill the vacated dioceses.

Talleyrand was excommunicated in 1793, but he continued to be active in politics, becoming Foreign Minister in 1796, taking charge of the Provisional Government in 1814, and serving as the French ambassador to England from 1830 to 1834.

The French Church was reorganised in 1790, and over the next year the number of bishops was reduced from 140 to 83, bishops and priests were to be elected by the people, and the clergy were compelled to swear allegiance to the French constitution rather than the state. Gallicanism had its victory in 1791.

But during the early days of the French revolution, the Jacobins emerged as a key party. They were so named because they first met regularly in the Jacobin convent in Paris. Their leaders included Marat, Danton, and Robespierre, and with an army of peasants they marched on Paris in 1792. Those nobles and clergy who opposed the revolution were executed summarily, and Louis XVI went to the guillotine on 21 January 1793.

The Jacobins also took the affairs of religion into their own hands. On 10 November 1793, a group of deputies marched to Notre Dame Cathedral. There they enthroned a dancer of doubtful morals as “the Goddess of Reason.”

From 1793, France was almost continuously at war with its European neighbours, including England, which had consequences for Ireland, and for the churches in Ireland, too.

The Irish Revolution of 1798:


The Battle of Ballynahinch on 13 June 1798: there is a direct chain linking the events of 1776, 1789 and 1798

I said earlier there was clear connection, linking Bunker Hill, the Bastille and Boolavogue. We should not see the events in Ireland in 1798 in isolation from the events in France nine years earlier, or from events in North America 22 years earlier. Nor should we fail to put the events of 1798 into a context at home, either.

The Rising of 1798 comes as a natural sequence to a number of reforms, and unmet demands for reform throughout Ireland at this time, demands and reforms that had major impact on the Church of Ireland and its members.

In the mid-18th century, the towns and cities of Ireland were governed and controlled by self-appointing and self-perpetuating ruling oligarchies with exclusively Church of Ireland memberships, and the greatest proportion of Irish land was in the hands of Protestants, and more particularly in the hands of members of the Church of Ireland.

By 1745, a vigorous campaign was under way in Dublin to overturn the oligarchic powers of the self-selecting aldermen who ruled the city, which now had a population of 110,000. This campaign was led by two members of the Church of Ireland – Charles Lucas and James Digges La Touche. Lucas was also more open to the rights of Presbyterians, which further alienated him from many of the bishops, clergy, and others in the Church of Ireland.

But the successes of Lucas and La Touche inspired similar reforms in other cities and towns.

The Church of Ireland was also arousing increasing hostility because of the contentious issue of tithes. Tithes were an important factor in agitation in the 1760s associated with the Hearts of Oak (drawing support from Presbyterians, Anglicans and Catholics) in Ulster, and the Whiteboys (mainly Catholics) in Munster. Draconian legislation was introduced in 1776, and in that year 20 Whiteboys were executed, some of them on the orders of magistrates who were also clergy of the Church of Ireland.

That was the year of the American Revolution, and it saw the growth of the Volunteer movement, aimed on the one-hand at controlling the Whiteboys and on the other at replacing the soldiers withdrawn from Ireland to fight in America.

The next wave of agrarian unrest came with the Rightboys in the 1780s. Curiously, by now some of the gentry realised that release from the burden of tithes would quieten their tenants, and also leave them to pay their rents more easily. This challenge provoked a famous response from Richard Woodward, Bishop of Cloyne, who warned in 1786 that if the existing established church were overturned, the state would soon share its fate.

But the Roman Catholic Church was gaining in confidence, and Catholics were gaining in the extension of liberties by a government anxious to secure their loyalty, particularly in the face of threats from revolutionary France. Catholics were admitted to the legal profession in 1792, allowed to take degrees at Trinity College Dublin, in certain circumstances even allowed to bear arms or to become army officers – between 1793 and 1815 about 200,000 Irish recruits, the vast majority of them Roman Catholics, entered the British army and navy. And the franchise was extended to a limited number of Roman Catholics.

The government was worried that continuing clerical training in France would provide a new generation of revolutionary priests – those who were trained in France at the time of the French Revolution included Father John Murphy of Boolavogue. And so, in 1795, the same year as the formation of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, Maynooth was founded with government funding as the Royal College of Saint Patrick.

Despite the popular image of a rising led by Presbyterians in the north-east in 1798 and by Catholic priests like John Murphy in the south-east, many of the leading members of the United Irishmen and their sympathisers were prominent members of the Church of Ireland, often finding inspiration for their revolutionary ideals in their religious beliefs and maintaining close links with church life.

Among the founding members of the United Irishmen in 1791 were Thomas Russell, Theobald Wolfe Tone and Simon Butler, all active and pious members of the Church of Ireland. After the society was proscribed, Russell, Tone and others climbed Cave Hill outside Belfast in June 1795, and solemnly swore not to desist in their efforts until Ireland had asserted its independence.

Prominent among the United Irishmen in 1798 was Lord Edward FitzGerald (1763-1798), whose uncles and cousins included a Bishop of Cork, an Archdeacon of Ross, and a Rector of the famous Shandon church in Cork. The brothers Henry Sheares (1755-1798) and John Sheares (1766-1798), were the most noticeable of United Irishmen among the parishioners of Saint Michan’s, Dublin – both were hanged publicly on 14 July 1798.

Other leading United Irishmen with intimate church links included Wolfe Tone, who married the granddaughter of a clergyman; Beauchamp Bagenal Harvey, commander of the Wexford rebel forces, who was the grandson of two and the nephew of a third clergyman in the Diocese of Ferns; and Cornelius Grogan, a conscientious patron of the Parish of Ardamine and churchwarden of Rathaspeck, both in Co Wexford. As Grogan went to his death on Wexford Bridge, accompanied by the Rector of Wexford, Archdeacon John Elgee, it is said (by the local historian, Nicky Furlong) that “the sailors of the Royal Navy who hanged him were amazed when … they heard him recite Protestant prayers.”

In the north-east, it is often forgotten that the hero and heroine of the Battle of Ballynahinch, Henry Monroe and Betsy Gray (if she ever existed as real historical character), were both members of the Church of Ireland.

Many of these laymen and women had been fired in their revolutionary zeal by their religious convictions, shaped and moulded in the Church of Ireland. Among those religious United Irishmen was Thomas Russell (1757-1803). Known in song and folklore as “the Man from God-knows-where,” Russell combined his revolutionary politics with a strong visionary brand of millenarianism and pious sacramentalism, and his knowledge of the Bible was so exact that he could argue with professional theologians on interpretations from both Hebrew and Greek.

By 1791, he had formed his lasting attachment to radical Christianity. Influenced by the recently published works of the Jesuit Pierre Francois Xavier de Charlevoix, Russell considered the comparatively beneficial system of government instituted by the Jesuits in Paraguay as “beyond compare the best, the happiest, that ever has been instituted.” On the other hand, he contended, tyranny had endeavoured to support itself “by perverting Christianity from its purposes and debasing its purity.”

Russell was arrested before the 1798 Rising began, and his writings in Newgate Prison, Dublin, exhibit a deep self-examination coupled with a strong personal faith:

O Lord God … it is not from thy justice
Before which I stand condemned
That I expect salvation,
But from thy mercy that I expect pardon and forgiveness,
My Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.


When the 20 key surviving leaders of the Rising were deported to Scotland in 1799, ten (half) of them were members of the Church of Ireland, Russell among them. When he was eventually executed in 1803, it was after he had spent his last hours translating from his Greek New Testament verses from the Book of Revelation that summarised his politically beatific and visionary millenarianism: “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away” (Revelation 21: 1).

Russell was buried in the grounds of Downpatrick Cathedral. Henry Monroe, who shared so many of his ideals and who was executed three years earlier, is buried in a quiet corner of the churchyard at Lisburn Cathedral.

Biographical notes on some key figures:

1, John Wesley (1703-1791)


John Wesley preaching at his father’s grave

John Wesley was an Anglican priest and theologian who was an early leader in the Methodist movement. Methodism had three rises:

• At Oxford University with the founding of the so-called “Holy Club.”

• While Wesley was a parish priest in Savanah, Georgia.

• After Wesley’s return to England.

The movement took form from its third rise in the early 1740s with Wesley, along with others, itinerant field preaching and the subsequent founding of religious societies for the formation of believers. This was the first widely successful evangelical movement in Britain. Wesley’s Methodist Connection included societies throughout these islands before spreading to other parts of the English-speaking world and beyond.

Methodists, under Wesley’s direction, became leaders in many social justice issues of the day including prison reform and abolitionism movements.

Wesley’s strength as a theologian lay in his ability to combine seemingly opposing theological stances. His greatest theological achievement was his promotion of what he termed “Christian perfection,” or holiness of heart and life. Wesley insisted that in this life, the Christian could come to a state where the love of God, or perfect love, reigned supreme in one’s heart.

His theology, especially his understanding of perfection, was firmly grounded in his sacramental theology. He continually insisted on the general use of the means of grace (prayer, Scripture, meditation, Holy Communion, &c), as the means by which God transformed the believer. Throughout his life, Wesley remained within the Church of England and insisted that his movement was well within the bounds of Anglicanism.

Wesley was born in Epworth Rectory, 37 km north-west of Lincoln, the fifteenth child of the Revd Samuel Wesley, a Church of England priest, and his wife Susanna Annesley. At the age of five, John was rescued from the burning rectory. This escape made a deep impression on his mind; and he regarded himself as providentially set apart, as a “brand plucked from the burning.”

He was ordained a deacon in 1725, was elected a fellow of Lincoln College Oxford the following year, and received his MA in 1727. He was his father’s curate for two years, and then returned to Oxford to fulfil his functions as a fellow.

Leading Wesley scholars point to 1725 as the date of Wesley’s conversion. In the year of his ordination he read and began to seek the religious truths which underlay the great revival of the 18th century. He said the reading of Christian Perfection and Serious Call by the mystic and Nonjuror William Law (1686-1761) gave him a more sublime view of the law of God; and he resolved to keep it, inwardly and outwardly, as sacredly as possible.

The year of his return to Oxford, 1729, marks the beginning of the rise of Methodism. The famous “Holy Club” was formed by John Wesley’s younger brother, Charles Wesley, and some fellow students, derisively called “Methodists” because of their methodical habits.

John Wesley left in 1735 for Savannah, Georgia. In the midst of a devastating storm on the way to Georgia, he was deeply impressed by a group of Moravians who remained calm by singing hymns. In Georgia, he built up a positive relationship with the Moravians. Some of the charges brought against him in Georgia were on account of his unusual liturgical “experiments.” A Journal entry in 1735 reports that he spent three hours “revising” The Book of Common Prayer. This indicates that Wesley’s intense reading of the Church Fathers and writers from the Eastern Orthodox Church influenced his approaches and baffled those who knew him.

But in Georgia, he had an unhappy love affair, which culminated in John's refusal to serve communion to his prospective wife and her husband. Her husband charged John with slander for disgracing his wife's honour. He returned to England in 1738, depressed and beaten.

It was at this point that he turned once again to the Moravians. After his Aldersgate experience of 24 May 1738, at a Moravian meeting in Aldersgate Street, London, when he heard a reading of Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans, he penned the now famous lines: “I felt my heart strangely warmed.” This revolutionised the character and method of his ministry.

Soon Wesley found most of the parish churches were closed to him, and he preached his first open-air sermon near Bristol in April 1739. Later that year, he formed his first Methodist Society. Similar societies were soon formed in Bristol and Kingswood, and wherever Wesley and his friends made converts.

Wesley and the Methodists were attacked in sermons and in print and at times attacked by mobs.

As early as 1739, he approved of lay preaching and pastoral work, and his first chapel was built that year in Bristol.

As his societies multiplied, and the elements of an ecclesiastical system were gradually adopted, the breach between Wesley and the Church of England widened. But the Wesley brothers refused to leave the Church of England, believing the Anglican Church to be “with all her blemishes … nearer the Scriptural plan than any other in Europe.”

In 1746, he read Lord King on the Primitive Church, and was convinced by this that apostolic succession was a fiction, that in fact that he was “a scriptural episcopos as much as any man in England.” Some years later, Stillingfleet’s Irenicon led him to renounce the opinion that neither Christ nor his apostles prescribed any form of Church government, and to declare ordination valid when performed by a presbyter/priest. It was not until about 40 years later that he ordained by the laying on of hands, and even then only for those who would work outside England.

The Bishop of London continued to refuse to ordain a minister for the American Methodists who were without the sacraments, and so in 1784 Wesley ordained preachers for Scotland and America, with power to administer the sacraments. Although Thomas Coke was already a priest in the Church of England, Wesley consecrated him, by the laying on of hands, to be superintendent in America. He also ordained Richard Whatcoat and Thomas Vasey as priests.

Wesley intended that Coke, and Asbury (who was subsequently consecrated in America by Coke) should ordain others in the newly founded Methodist Episcopal Church. This alarmed his brother Charles Wesley, who begged him to stop before he had “quite broken down the bridge,” and not “leave an indelible blot on our memory.” Wesley replied that he had not separated from the Church, nor did he intend to, but he must and would save as many souls as he could while alive, “without being careful about what may possibly be when I die.”

Although he rejoiced that the Methodists in America were free, he advised his English followers to remain in the Church of England, and he himself died within it.

He died peacefully on 2 March 1791, and is buried in a small graveyard behind Wesley’s Chapel in City Road, London. Wesley is listed as Number 50 on the BBC’s list of the 100 Greatest Britons.

2, Samuel Seabury (1729-1796):


A window in Old Saint Paul’s Church, Edinburgh, commemorating the consecration of Samuel Seabury as a bishop

Samuel Seabury was the first American Episcopal bishop, the second Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the US, and the first Bishop of Connecticut.

Seabury was born in Ledyard, Groton, Connecticut, in 1729. His father, also Samuel Seabury (1706-1764), was originally a Congregationalist minister in Groton, but was ordained deacon and priest in the Church of England in 1731, in 1731, and was the Rector of New London, Connecticut, from 1732 to 1743, and in Hempstead, Long Island, from 1743 until his death.

Samuel Seabury (the son) graduated from Yale in 1748. He studied theology with his father, and studied medicine in Edinburgh (1752-1753). He was ordained deacon by the Bishop of Lincoln and priest by the Bishop of Carlisle (1753). He was the Rector of Christ Church in New Brunswick, New Jersey (1754-1757), Rector of Jamaica, New York (1757-1766), and of Rector of Saint Peter’s, Westchester (now part of the Bronx) (1766-1775).

He was one of the signers of the White Plains protest in April 1775 against all unlawful congresses and committees, and during the American Revolution was a devoted loyalist. He wrote the Free Thoughts on the Proceedings of the Continental Congress (1774) by A.W. Farmer (i.e. A Westchester Farmer). This was followed by a second Farmer’s Letter, The Congress Canvassed (1774), answered by Alexander Hamilton in A Full Vindication of the Measures of the Congress, from the Calumnies of their Enemies. A third Farmer’s Letter replied to Hamilton’s View of the Controversy between Great Britain and her Colonies, in a broader and abler treatment than in the previous pamphlets. To this third pamphlet Hamilton replied with The Farmer Refuted (1775).

These three Farmer’s Letters – a fourth was advertised but apparently was never published – were forceful presentations of the pro-British claim, written in a plain, hard-headed style. Seabury claimed them in England in 1783 when he was seeking episcopal consecration. At the same time he claimed the authorship of a letter, not signed by a Westchester farmer, which under the title An Alarm to the Legislature of the Province of New York (1775) discussed the power of this, the only legal political body in the colony. Seabury’s clarity of style and general ease of reading would set him apart from his ecclesiastical colleagues throughout his life.

Seabury was arrested in November 1775 by a mob of Whigs, and was kept in prison in Connecticut for six weeks. He was prevented from carrying out his parochial ministry, and after some time in Long Island he took refuge in New York City, where in 1778 he was appointed chaplain to the King’s American Regiment.

On 25 March 1783, a meeting of 10 Episcopal clergy in Woodbury, Connecticut, elected Seabury bishop as their second choice (their first choice declined for health reasons). There were no Anglican bishops in the Americas to consecrate him, so he sailed to London on 7 July.

In England, however, his consecration was rationalised as impossible because, as an American citizen, he could no longer take the oath of allegiance to monarchy.

Seabury then turned to the nonjuring Scottish Episcopal Church, whose bishops at that time refused to recognise the authority of George III. Seabury was consecrated in Aberdeen on 14 November 1784, with the condition that he would study the Scottish Rite for the Holy Communion and work for its adoption rather than the English rite of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

To the present day, the ECUSA/TEC liturgy follows to the main features of the Scottish Episcopalian rite in one of its Eucharistic liturgies.

The anniversary of Seabury’s consecration is now a lesser feast day in the calendars of both ECUSA/TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada.

Seabury’s consecration by the Scots caused alarm in the (Whig) British government, raising fears of an entirely Jacobite church in the US. Parliament was persuaded to make provision for the consecration of foreign bishops. Seabury’s tenacity made possible a continued relationship between the American and English churches.

Seabury returned to Connecticut in 1785 and made his home in New London, Connecticut, where he was the Rector of Saint James’ Church. At first, the validity of his consecration was questioned by some, but it was recognised by the General Convention of his church in 1789.

In 1790, Seabury took charge of the Diocese of Rhode Island also. In 1792, he joined Bishop William White and Bishop Samuel Provoost, who had received English consecration in 1787, and James Madison (1749-1812), who had received English consecration in 1790, in the consecration of Thomas John Claggett as Bishop of Maryland in 1792, thus uniting the Scottish and the English successions.

Seabury played a decisive role in the evolution of Anglican liturgy in North America after the Revolution. His Communion Office (New London, 1786), was based on the Scottish Book of Common Prayer rather than the 1662 Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England. Seabury was the probably the only liturgically literate member of the House of Bishops in his day.

Seabury kept strictly his obligation to the Scots to study and quietly advocate their point of view in Eucharistic matters. His defence of the Scottish service – especially its restoration of the epiclesis or invocation of the Holy Spirit, influenced the first Book of Common Prayer adopted by the Episcopal Church in 1789. The Prayer of Consecration in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England ended with the Words of Institution. But the Scottish Rite continued with a Prayer of Oblation based on the ancient classical models of Consecration Prayers found in Roman and Orthodox Christianity.

In addition to the epiclesis, Seabury argued for the restoration of another ancient custom – the weekly celebration of Holy Communion on Sundays. In An Earnest Persuasive to Frequent Communion (New Haven, 1789), he wrote that “when I consider its importance, both on account of the positive command of Christ, and of the many and great benefits we receive from it, I cannot but regret that it does not make a part of every Sunday’s solemnity.”

Seabury was ahead of his time. Two centuries later the custom of a weekly Eucharist was rapidly spreading through many Anglican parishes under the impact of the Liturgical Movement.

Seabury died in New London on 25 February 1796, and he was buried in a small chapel at Saint James’.

3, Theobald Wolfe Tone (1763-1798):


Edward Delaney’s statue in Saint Stephen’s Green, Dublin, of Theobald Wolfe Tone (1763-1798), a leading United Irishman and a member of the Church of Ireland.

Theobald Wolfe Tone was a leading figure in the United Irishmen and is regarded as the father of Irish republicans. He died from a self-inflicted wound after being sentenced to death for his part in the 1798 Rising.

He was born in Dublin in 1763, the son of a coach-maker who was a member of the Church of Ireland. He studied law at Trinity College Dublin and qualified as a barrister from the King’s Inns at the age of 26, and attended the Inns of Court in London. As a student, he eloped with Elizabeth Witherington, daughter of William Witherington, of Dublin, and his wife, Catherine Fanning, and they were married in Saint Ann’s Church, Dawson Street, Dublin. Tone and his wife, whom he renamed Matilda, he had two sons and a daughter. She was only 16 when they married, and she lived on for 50 years after his death.

Tone submitted a scheme for founding a military colony in Hawaii, but the Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger, took no notice of it. Tone then turned to politics. An able pamphlet attacking the administration of the Marquess of Buckingham in 1790 brought him to the notice of the Whig Club, and in September 1791 he wrote an essay using the pseudonym of “A Northern Whig,” of which 10,000 copies were said to have been sold.

About this time, the principles of the French Revolution were being eagerly embraced in Ireland. At a meeting in Belfast two months before Tone’s essay was published, a resolution was passed calling for the abolition of religious disqualifications, “giving the first sign of political sympathy between the Roman Catholics and the Protestant Whigs.” Tone’s essay and that meeting emphasised the growing breach between Whig patriots like Henry Flood and Henry Grattan, who aimed at Catholic Emancipation and parliamentary reform without breaking the connection with England, and those who sought a separate Irish Republic.

In October 1791, Tone, Thomas Russell (1767-1803) and James Napper Tandy – all three members of the Church of Ireland – and others joined in founding the Society of United Irishmen. In the years that followed, Tone worked closely in his plans for revolution with a Church of England priest, the Revd William Jackson, who came to Ireland to negotiate between the French Committee of Public Safety and the United Irishmen, but Jackson was arrested in April 1794. In May 1795, on the summit of Cave Hill in Belfast, Tone made the famous compact with Russell and Henry Joy McCracken, promising “Never to desist in our efforts until we subvert the authority of England over our country and asserted our independence.”

Tone was arrested on board the Hoche by an English squadron at Rathmullan on Lough Swilly on 12 October 1798. He was sentenced to be hanged on 12 November 1798. Before this sentence was carried out, he suffered a fatal neck wound, self-inflicted according to contemporaries, from which he died a week later at the age of 35 in prison in Dublin. He is buried in the former Church of Ireland churchyard in Bodenstown, Co Kildare.

Next:

10.1, Why did the Reformation fail?

10.2, The Boyne and the Penal Laws

10.3, Disestablishment and the Ultramontane triumph

Field-trip: Agreeing date for field trip to Kilkenny.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, Trinity College Dublin. This lecture on 22 February 2013 was part of the Church History Elective (TH 7864) on the MTh course, Year I.

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