Christopher Seitz: The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion

General Convention

Chris Seitz, who was an professor at YDS when I was a student there, and who’s brother Mark is a good friend of mine, has written up a critique of the HoB response to the Primate’s Communique. At the end of his essay he raises an interesting historical point:

“There was a moment in the early history of Anglicanism in America when, fearful of the power of Bishops in a civil government now rejected in England, the fledgling Episcopal Church sought to create a polity that was all its own, in which the power of Bishops was circumscribed by a second House of Deputies. The Church of England indicated that was fine, but it would not be an Episcopal Church in Communion in consequence, and so the polity was carefully redefined.

Ironically, we may now find ourselves in a similar situation but for very different reasons. Now the Bishops themselves wish to depict restrictions upon themselves, and a special US polity, in order to defer or reject requests being made by Communion members as new and vibrant as the American church herself once was. It is time for the Communion to insist that America inhabit an Episcopal Church recognizable on terms all can see and identify as such. Restrictions on autonomy are not new, and it is time they be defended as fully appropriate to both Anglican Communion and Episcopal Church polity and identity.”

I’m not familiar with the details of this situation (and I have to confess that I’ve still not found the time to read my former bishop’s book on the history of the early days of the Episcopal Church.) Do any of you have any more information about the episode to which Prof. Seitz alludes?

Read the rest here: Christopher Seitz: The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. Ishmael has sent a note directly to me with the response:
    At the end of this post on your blog you as the blog maintainer said “Do any of you have any more information about the episode …”? It so happens I do. I was going to mention a book I have here, but it does not seem to be available on the Internet. But another one is.
    If you follow this link:
    it will take you to a representative history book available online, written by Wilberforce. Then you can type “162” in the page goto box to get to where he talks about the America/England negotiations.
    Per Wilberforce, the English bishops’ primary objection was to the omission of Nicene creed, and alteration of the Apostles’ by omission of “He descended into hell”
    America met this objection: Apostles’ Creed was restored in its original form, and the Nicene was reintroduced.
    The polity point, per Wilberforce, was that bishops (according to the first version of the constitution) might be tried by nonbishops. Also per Wilberforce this objection was not the cause of America amending that provision – the convention had already changed their mind on that before the English bishops’ letter reached America.
    There is nothing about the English bishops objecting as such to a house of deputies with clerical and lay representatives. It was just the point of who can be judges in the trial of a bishop.
    Now Mr Seitz may have remembered the wrong detail (as to where there was historical causation) but perhaps he still has a point once you straighten that out. The English bishops’ chief objection was the creeds. If America had not met that objection, the English bishops might not have approved the request for consecrating bishops for America.

  2. Tobias Haller says

    The Creed controversy tallies with my recollection. I think Seitz may be confusing the earlier discussions concerning whether it was necessary to have bishops at all, a possibility that would certainly not have been acceptable to the English.

  3. Fr. Nick,
    First, I tried to send you a post in response to William Paul, but it doesn’t seem to let it through. Perhaps there are too many links.
    Second, it seems to me that demand is to give up something essential in the Quadrilateral: bishops locally adapted. To demand we give up part of our cultural adaptivity which have involved a two chamber governance and tended to include all orders of ministry (something I might add which has early Christian roots) in that governance as adaptive of the episcopate seems very one-sided (and I would say such adaptivity provides some adequate check given Sin. In this regard, our US Founding Fathers likewise were suspicious of human tendencies to abuse power. Should the Church be less so? Given the rape of children and cover up and fail to deal with such by more imperious ecclesiologies? Given the silence on persecution of lgbt persons by more imperious ecclesiologies? I think not.). This would be like us demanding Archbishop Akinola give up his imperiousness rooted in a certain of traditions among various Nigerian tribes or for the CofE to stop appointments of bishops and move to election NOW! But of course, we make no such demands even when imperiousness is aligned with secular political power to persecute. Interesting.
    It’s more of what feels like we need a good does of AA all around, or perhaps in this case Churchaholics Anonymous, because this reads as codependence rather than interdependence and allows roughshod bulldozing over the other, especially the other who is weaker among us–in this case, especially lgbt persons and those Churches in the Communion that have chosen to make space for us.
    Again, what seems to show up is a clash between a want for an Anglican Communion that preserves breadth through common prayer locally inculturated and a governance of all orders AND a want for an Anglican Communion that is confessional in severely Calvinist terms and governed by bishops only especially through an archiepiscopal curia of sorts. Both have roots in Anglicanism as our polities have always been both top-down and lateral, allowing for “push back” if one wishes such a term and mediation of responsible and limited power through a host of structures and participation by all in various ways beginning at the parish. And we’ve always had a Calvinist streak. Indeed, these various mediations through various structures have allowed space for the type of humility that recognizes Sin and puts checks and limits throughout. Others it seems wish to tear these down through centralization and confession rather than find ways to facilitate further conversation and spaciousness. It’s the difference between those who put forward the Primates as decisive and those like myself and Fr. Gerns who would strengthen the work of the ACC which is open to a much richer breadth of Anglicans, our experiences across the globe, our experiences within subcultures (such as lgbt persons).
    I asked Fr. Bill Carroll about these various polities being put forward as it seems folks are rooting for either the bishop-centered model of the East or the Pope (Primates) model of Rome, the former tends to see the laity as passively acted upon and as mere extensions of the bishop, the latter reduces all into the one as the many are simply pure relationality to the one and as such cannot have boundaries (practical matters like abuse and how we deal with such flow from our ecclesiologies and polities and governance). Both set up dynamics that do not allow for proper boundaries when abuse is underway and ecclesial rights to prevent abuse and protect flourishing for each member or to name as such(Volf’s term and actually quite old in our thinking–we can even say that in part “human rights” language arises from ecclesial roots. Folks in England in the Medieval period would speak of their “rights” in receiving Easter Eucharist). Fr. Bill suggested reading again Miroslav Volf’s “After Our Likeness”. I think our TEC polity and our Communion “bonds of affection” are actually more Trinitarian on Volf’s terms rather than those suggested by Zizioulas’ “Being as Communion” (East) or Ratzinger’s “Called to Communion” (Rome).
    What we need are strengthening of ways to communicate, converse, debate, disagree, make space for our broad becoming catholicity (the marks of the Church are eschatological in this view) and be fed by God together rather than simply accede to imposition of polities foreign to our overall inheritance. The closing chapter of my dissertation will address some such matters considering historical development with regard to change and authority in England.

  4. Thanks *Christopher – for the note and for the links as well.
    Re: Polity – Jim Naughton asked a question a while back on his blog (Daily Episcopalian) about how we might come to a conciliar form of polity that would avoid the pitfall of creating a curial structure. I don’t know how many people are familiar with Moravian Church, but I think they may have done just that – the local provinces are governed by regional synods and the whole collection is governed by the international Unity Synod – which accurately reflects the full governance of each of the local synods. Andrew Gerns suggested something similar when he thought that rather than having the Primate’s meeting be the “referee” for the Communion, we use the the ACC instead.
    (Of course that thought may be moot if TEC is removed from the Anglican Communion, but… Since I’m one of those who thinks that we do need some sort of referee to govern our political life in the Church, this seems to be to be one that might be a useful venue to pursue.)
    Don’t know what the issue was with the post you tried to make. Let me know if you have problems again. I may have something mis-configured. Wouldn’t be the first time…

  5. Fr. Nick
    Since I’m one of those who thinks that we do need some sort of referee to govern our political life in the Church, this seems to be to be one that might be a useful venue to pursue.
    I agree with you to a tee on this–I know, rare. As someone of a category of persons more talked about than with at the higher eschalons of the Communion, the strengthening of the ACC is much more conducive to those conversations, as we too would have access to its workings, and it maintains all orders of ministry as vital to Church governance. This is an important difference between ourselves and the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, and I don’t think we should discount that differnce lightly, having been Roman Catholic and knowing just how exactly the laity really don’t matter much.

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