Saturday, 30 June 2018

A statue in Limerick is
a reminder of the principles
underpinning Anglican unity

The statue of Bishop John Jebb in the Jebb Chapel or North Transept of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

It is impossible for visitors to Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, not to be overwhelmed by the larger-than-life statue in the North Transept or Jebb Chapel commemorating John Jebb (1775-1833), Bishop of Limerick.

John Jebb was born in Drogheda on 27 September 1775. He was Archdeacon of Emly when became Bishop of Limerick, Ardfert and Aghadoe in 1823. He was a High Church theologian to ritual and is regarded as a forerunner of the Oxford Movement.

Jebb died on 9 December 1833.

His monument is a tribute to the crucial role he played in the 19th century discussions and debates that led to development of what became the Anglican Communion.

The inscription on the plinth of his statue in Saint Mary’s Cathedral reads:

‘To the memory of John Jebb, DD, Bishop of Limerick.

‘This monumental statue is raised by friends of religion and literature in Ireland, England and America in commemoration of benefits conferred by his life and writings upon the Universal Church of Christ.’

A separate plaque in the Jebb chapel names those ‘friends of religion and literature in Ireland, England and America,’ beginning with Bishops, Deans and senior clergy of the Diocese of Limerick and Ardfert, continuing with the Archdeacon of Dublin, the Regius Professor of Divinity in Trinity College Dublin, the Lord Chief Justice, local potentates, including members of the Barrington family and the ‘Proprietors of the Limerick Chronicle.’

Surprisingly, no bishops of the Church of Ireland are included in the list of Irish names, which make up three of the six columns on the plaque.

But the list of English names is headed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of York, the two senior bishops of the Church of England, the Bishop of London and the Bishop of Durham, as well as the Bishop of Lincoln and the Bishop of Winchester.

The names from the Church of England also include the Dean of Manchester, the Master of Saint John’s College, Cambridge, James Wood (1760-1839), later Dean of Ely, the President of Magdalen College, Oxford, Martin Routh (1755-1854), the Master of Clare Hall (now Clare College), Cambridge, William Webb, Christopher Wordsworth (1774-1856), Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, and brother of the poet William Wordsworth, and two archdeacons.

The name of the Rev HJ Wilberforce may be a reference to the Revd Henry Wilberforce (1807-1873), a son of the anti-slavery campaigner, William Wilberforce. He was a former student of John Henry Newman and a Tractarian priest in the Church of England before he joined the Roman Catholic Church. Later, he became secretary of the Catholic Defence Association and lived in Ireland for two or three years. He engaged in an exchange of critical correspondence with the Revd Alexander Dallas, a strong evangelical missionary associated with the Irish Church Missions and the Achill Mission of Canon Edward Nangle.

Other worthies among the list of English names include the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Thomas Spring-Rice (1790-1866), although he was MP for Limerick and then MP for Cambridge, and he lived at Mount Trenchard, Co Limerick.

The names of American donors on the plaque include William White (1748-1836), first and fourth Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and Bishop of Pennsylvania; George Washington Doane (1799-1859), Bishop of New Jersey, and Thomas Cort, President of Pennsylvania University.

The plaque listing the names of the Irish, English and American contributors to Bishop John Jebb’s memorial (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

This is an interesting collection of names, as it brings together the Church of Ireland, the Church of England and the Episcopal Church over a generation before the first Lambeth Conference.

Martin Routh of Clare College, Cambridge, provides an interesting link that brought the three churches back together after the American Revolution and before the formation of the Anglican Communion.

When the American Anglicans or Episcopalians visited England in 1783 seeking assistance to form up their own episcopate, Thomas Thurlow, Bishop of Durham, recommended they consult Routh. Routh advised them against approaching the Lutheran bishops of Denmark and instead recommended they approach the Episcopal Church of Scotland as this church had a high church tradition.

On 14 November 1784, Robert Kilgour, Bishop of Aberdeen and Primus of Scotland, Arthur Petrie, Bishop of Ross and Moray, and the Coadjutor-Bishop of Aberdeen, John Skinner, consecrated Samuel Seabury of Connecticut as bishop. This act was crucial in the survival of the American Episcopal Church.

A year later, the first General Convention of the Episcopal Church was held in 1785. William White was elected the first Presiding Bishop, and in 1787 he was consecrated bishop in the Chapel of Lambeth Palace by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and the Bishops of Bath and Wells and Peterborough.

Bishop Gregory Cameron, a former Deputy Secretary General of the Anglican Communion and now Bishop of St Asaph in Wales, was the speaker and the Limerick and Tuam clergy conference last year. He identifies the first use of the term ‘Anglican Communion’ in 1843, four years after the death of Bishop Jebb.

He found this first usage in the title of a book by Canon John Jebb, The Choral Service of the United Church of England and Ireland, being an Inquiry into the Liturgical System of the Cathedral and Collegiate Foundations of the Anglican Communion (London: James Parker, 1843).

This Dublin-born Canon John Jebb (1805-1886) was a nephew of Bishop John Jebb of Limerick, and he was a canon of Limerick Cathedral until he moved to England in 1843, the year this book was published.

This second John Jebb spent most of his early church life as the Prebendary of Donoughmore in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, from 1832 to 1843. Later, he was a prebendary in Hereford Cathedral and then a canon residentiary.

Four years after Jebb’s book was published, Horatio Southgate, the Missionary Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the Dominions of the Sultan, spoke in 1847 of ‘each of the three branches of the Anglican Communion …, namely, the English, the Scotch, and the American.’ By the mid-19th century, it was common to refer to the growing family of Anglican and Episcopal churches as ‘two communions.’ The term ‘Anglican Communion’ is eventually used as a defining term at the first Lambeth Conference in 1867.

The names of the subscribers to Jebb’s memorial in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, illustrate how from the very beginning the close links between these churches are inseparable from Anglican identity.

Today, there is a movement within the Church of Ireland that threatens and that could endanger these historic links between these three churches. Two bishops of the Church of Ireland recently attended the Gafcon Conference in Jerusalem which called on Anglican bishops to distance themselves from the Episcopal Church and to boycott the next Lambeth Conference called by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

But the ‘Preamble and Declaration’ adopted by the General Convention of the Church of Ireland in 1870 pledges: ‘The Church of Ireland will maintain communion with the sister Church of England … and will set forward, so far as in it lieth, quietness, peace and love, among all Christian people.’

At their consecration in the Church of Ireland, bishops are told by the consecrating archbishop that bishops have ‘a special responsibility to maintain and further the unity of the Church, to uphold its discipline, to guard its faith and to promote its mission throughout the world.’ They are asked: ‘Will you promote unity, peace, and love among all Christian people …?’

The solemn answer is: ‘By the help of God, I will.’

Any move to create a rift between the Church of Ireland and the Church of England or to promote disunity and schism in the Anglican Communion, runs contrary not only to the principles of John Jebb, but are also in breach of the foundational canonical principals that guide the governance of the Church of Ireland.

The list of American contributors to Bishop John Jebb’s memorial (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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