Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

The history of this religious organization divides itself naturally into two portions: the period of its dependence upon the Church of England and that of its separate existence with a hierarchy of its own.

I. BEFORE THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION

The Church of England was planted permanently in Virginia in 1607, at the foundation of the Jamestown Colony. There had been sporadic attempts before this date -- in 1585 and 1587, under the auspices of Walter Raleigh in the Carolinas, and in 1607, under the auspices of Chief Justice Popham and Sir Ferdinando Gorges in Maine. The attempt to found colonies had failed, and with it, of course, the attempt to plant the English ecclesiastical institutions.

During the colonial period the Church of England achieved a quasi-establishment in Maryland and Virginia, and to a lesser extent in the other colonies, with the exception of New England, where for many years the few Episcopalians were bitterly persecuted and at best barely tolerated. In the Southern states -- notably in Virginia and Maryland, in the latter of which the Church of England has dispossessed the Catholics not only of their political power, but even of religious liberty -- the Church of England, although well provided for from a worldly point of view, was by no means in a strong state, either spiritually or intellectually. The appointment to parishes was almost wholly in the hands of vestries who refused to induct ministers and so give them a title to the emoluments of their office, but preferred to pay chaplains whom they could dismiss at their pleasure. This naturally resulted in filling the ranks of the ministry with very unworthy candidates, and reduced the clergy to a position of contempt in the eyes of the laity.

As there were no bishops in America, the churches in the colonies were under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of London, who governed them by means of commissaries; but, although among the commissaries were men of such eminence as Dr. Bray in Maryland, and Dr. Blair, the founder of William and Mary College in Virginia, the lay power was so strong and the class of men willing to undertake the work of the ministry so inferior that very little could be done. Even the efforts of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel proved of very little effect in the South, though in Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey it bore much better fruit.

But, while the Anglican church was sunk in spiritual and intellectual lethargy in the South, and while it had a rather attenuated existence in the Middle states, an event occurred in New England in 1722 which was of the greatest promise for the future of Anglicanism, and which shook Congregationalism in New England to its very foundations. Timothy Cutler, the rector of Yale College, with six other Congregational ministers, all men of learning and piety, announced to their brethren in the Congregational ministry of Connecticut that they could no longer remain out of visible communion with an Episcopal Church : that some of them doubted of the validity, while others were persuaded of the invalidity, of Presbyterian ordinations. Three of them were subsequently persuaded to remain in the Congregational ministry, the rest becoming Episcopalians, and three of them, Messrs. Cutler, Johnson, and Brown, were ordained to the ministry of the Anglican Church.

During the Revolution

During the period of the Revolution the Church of England in America suffered greatly in the estimation of Americans by its strong attachment to the cause of the British Crown. But there were not wanting both clergymen and laymen most eminent in their loyalty to the cause of the colonies and in the patriotic sacrifices which they made to the cause of independence. Among the clergy two such men were Mr. White, an assistant of Christ Church, Philadelphia, and Mr. Provost, assistant of Trinity Church, New York. The rectors of these churches being Tories, these gentlemen subsequently succeeded them in the pastorate of their respective parishes.

II. AFTER THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION

The Seabury Faction

At the close of the war, Episcopalians, as they were already commonly called, realized that, if they were to play any part in the national life, their church must have a national organization. the greatest obstacle to this organization was the obtaining of bishops to carry on a national hierarchy. In Connecticut, where those who had gone into the Episcopal Church had not only read themselves into a belief in the necessity of Episcopacy, but had also adopted many other tenets of the Caroline divines, a bishop was considered of absolute necessity, and, accordingly, the clergy of that state elected the Rev. Samuel Seabury and requested him to go abroad and obtain the episcopal character.

It was found impossible to obtain the episcopate in England, owing to the fact that the bishops there could not by law consecrate any man who would not take the oath of allegiance, and, although during the War of the Revolution, Seabury had been widely known for his Tory sympathies, it would have been impossible for him to return to America if he had received consecration as a British subject. Upon the refusal of the English bishops to confer the episcopate, he proceeded to Scotland, where, after prolonged negotiations, the Nonjuring bishops consented to confer the episcopal character upon him.

These bishops were the remnant of the Episcopal Church which the Stuarts had so ardently desired to set up in Scotland and which had lost the protection of the State, together with all its endowments, by its fidelity to James II. Their religious principles were looked upon by Scottish Presbyterians as scarcely less obnoxious than those of Catholics and politically they were considered quite as dangerous. They were indeed exceedingly High Churchmen, and had made such alterations in the liturgy as brought their doctrine of the Holy Eucharist very near to that of the Catholic Church. They had even been known to use chrism in confirmation, and they were strong believers in the sacerdotal character of the Christian ministry and in the necessity of Apostolic succession and episcopal ordination. Dr. Seabury was consecrated by them in 1784, and, being of very similar theological opinions himself, he signed a concordat immediately after his consecration, where by he agreed to do his utmost to introduce the liturgical and doctrinal peculiarities of the Nonjurors into Connecticut. Upon his return to his own state he proceeded to organize and govern his diocese very much as a Catholic bishop would do; he excluded the laity from all deliberations and ecclesiastical councils and, as much as he could, from all control of ecclesiastical affairs.

The White and Provost Factions

But if sacerdotalism was triumphant in Connecticut, a very different view was taken in New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Dr. White, now rector of Christ Church, and a doctor of divinity, believed that if the Episcopal Church was ever to live and grow in America it must assent to, and adopt as far as possible, the principle of representative government. He would have been willing to go on without the episcopate until such time as it could have been obtained from England, and in the meantime to ordain candidates to the ministry by means of Presbyterian ordination, with the proviso, however, that upon the obtaining of a bishop these gentlemen were to be conditionally re-ordained. This last suggestion, however, found little favour among Episcopalians, and at last, after considerable difficulty, an Act was passed in Parliament whereby the English bishops were empowered to confer the episcopate upon men who were not subject to the British Crown. Accordingly, Dr. White, being elected Bishop of Pennsylvania, and Dr. Provost, Bishop of New York, proceeded to England and received consecration at the hands of the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Moore, on Septuagesima Sunday, 1787;

Tenuous Union of the Various Factions

Upon their return to America, although there were now three bishops in the United States there were so many differences between the Connecticut churchmen and those of the Middle and Southern states, especially with regard to the presence of laymen in ecclesiastical councils, that it was not until 1789 that a union was effected. Even after that date, when Dr. Madison was elected by Virginia to be its bishop, he proceeded to England for his consecration because Bishop Provost, of New York, refused to act in conjunction with the Bishop of Connecticut. The union, however, was finally cemented in 1792, when Dr. Claggert being elected Bishop of Maryland, and there being three bishops in the country of the Anglican line exclusive of Dr. Seabury, the Bishop of New York withdrew his objections as far as to allow Dr. Seabury to make a fourth. If Dr. Seabury had not been invited to take part in the consecration of Dr. Claggert, a schism between Connecticut an the rest of the country would have been the immediate result.

III. THE THREE PARTIES OF EPISCOPALIANS

Almost from the very beginning of its independent life, the tendencies which have shown themselves in the three parties in the Episcopal Church of the present day were not only evident, but were even embodied in the members of the Episcopate.

Bishop Provost, of New York, represented the rationalistic temper of the eighteenth century, which has eventuated in what is called the Broad Church Party .

Bishop White represented the Evangelical Party , with its belief in the desirability rather than the necessity of Apostolic succession and its desire to fraternize as nearly as possible with the other progeny of the Reformation.

Bishop Seabury, on the other hand, represented the traditional High Church position, intellectual rather than emotional, and laying more stress upon the outward ecclesiastical organization of the Church than upon emotional religion.

High Church Party

This school has played a very important part in the history of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States ; and, while it was undoubtedly influenced to a large extent by the Oxford Movement, it was existent and energetic long before 1833. Indeed, in the twenties Bishop Hobart was already presenting that type of evangelical piety, united with high sacramental ideas, which has been the principal characteristic of the party ever since.

The Oxford Movement, however, was not without its influence, and as early as 1843 the disputes between the extreme High Churchmen and the rest of the Episcopal Church had reached a condition of such acerbity that when the Rev. Arthur Cary, in his examination for orders, avowed the principles of "Tract 90" -- and in spite of that fact was not refused ordination -- the controversy broke out into an open war. The Bishop of Philadelphia, Dr. Onderdonk, was suspended from his office on a charge of drunkenness, the real reason being his sympathy with High Churchmen; and his dispossession was so unjust that it was declared by the famous legal authority, Horace Binney, to be absolutely illegal. He was not, however, restored to the exercise of his functions for more than ten years. His brother bishop of New York fared even worse. Charges of immorality were preferred against him, and he was suspended from his office for the rest of his life, despite the fact that the vast majority of his fellow-citizens, whether they belonged to his communion or not, firmly believed in his innocence. An attempt, however, to suspend a third bishop of High Church views, the father of the late Monsignor Doane, failed after he had been presented four times. Bishop Doane, not only by his unrivalled diplomatic skill, but by the goodness and probity of his life, made an ecclesiastical trial impossible.

In 1852 the Bishop of North Carolina, Dr. Ives, resigned his position in the Episcopal Church and submitted to the Apostolic See, and he was followed into the Catholic Church by a considerable number, both of clergymen and laymen. His secession drew out of the Episcopal Church all those of distinctly Roman sympathies, but the High Church Party lived on, grown, and in some degrees prospering, in spite of hostile legislation, while in course of time a pro-Roman party sprang up again. After the passing of the open-pulpit canon in the General Convention of 1907, some twenty clergymen and a large number of the laity submitted to the Catholic Church.

Evangelical Party

On the other hand, the extreme Evangelical Party, disturbed by the growth of ritualism, and unable to drive out High Churchmen in any large numbers, themselves seceded from the Protestant Episcopal Church in 1873, and formed what is known as the Reformed Episcopal Church. Unlike many of the Protestant bodies, the Episcopal Church was not permanently disrupted by the Civil War, for with the collapse of the Confederacy the separate organization of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States ceased.

Broad Church Party

The Broad Church party, however, have remained in the Protestant Episcopal Church, and of late years have seriously affected its attitude towards such subjects as higher criticism and the necessity of episcopal ordination. The most outspoken advocates of this school, who in their conclusions differed little or not at all from the extreme modernists, have not been able seriously to alter the teaching of the Episcopal Church upon such fundamental truths as the Trinity and Incarnation ; and in a few cases the High Church Party and the Evangelical, by combining, have been strong enough to exclude them from the Episcopal Church. The party, however, is gaining strength; its clergymen are men of intellect and vigour, and the laity who support the party are in the main people of large means. To it the future of Anglicanism belongs more than to any other school of thought within the Anglican body .

IV. STATISTICS

In 1907, the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America possessed a hierarch of 5413 clergy, 438 candidates for orders, and 946,252 communicants. These communicants should be multiplied at least three times in order to give an idea of the adherents of the Protestant Episcopal Church. It possessed nine colleges and universities and fifteen theological seminaries.


More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed in fifteen hardcopy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online


Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Isaiah 50:4-9
4 Lord Yahweh has given me a disciple's tongue, for ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 69:8-10, 21-22, 31, 33-34
8 I am estranged from my brothers, alienated from my ... Read More

Gospel, Matthew 26:14-25
14 Then one of the Twelve, the man called Judas ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for April 16th, 2014 Image

St. Bernadette
April 16: On April 16, 1879, Bernadette -- or Sister Marie-Bernard, as she ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter