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In the preceding pages, the idea of superintending ministers, has been introduced; but not a word has been said of the succession supposed necessary to constitute the Episcopal character; and this has been on purpose postponed, as demanding a more minute discussion.
On the subject of Episcopacy, the general opinion of the churches in question is of peculiar importance, yet it can be collected only from circumstances; to assist in ascertaining it, the two following facts are stated:.
Wherever these churches have been erected, the ecclesiastical government of the Church of England has been adhered to; they have depended on the English Bishops for ordination of their Clergy, and on no occasion expressed a dissatisfaction with Episcopacy. This, considering the liberty they enjoyed in common with others, of forming their churches on whatever plan they liked best, is a presumptive proof of their preferring the Episcopal government, especially as it subjected them under the former connection to many inconveniencies, such as sending to the distance of three thousand miles for ordination, the scandal sometimes brought on the Church by the ordination of low and vicious persons,* the difficulty of getting rid of immoral ministers, and that several of the Clergy formed attachments of which this country has been always jealous, and which have at last proved extremely prejudicial to her interests.
On the other hand there can not be produced an instance of laymen in America, unless in the very infancy of the settlements, soliciting the introduction of a Bishop ;t it was probably by a great majority of them thought an hazardous experiment. How far the prerogative of the King as head of the Church might be construed to extend over the Colonies, whether a Bishop would bring with him that part of the law which respects ecclesiastical matters, and whether the civil powers vested in the Bishops in England would accompany that order to America, were questions which, for aught they knew, would include principles and produce consequences dangerous and destructive to their civil rights. \
Prom these two facts it may fairly be inferred that Episcopalians on this continent will wish to institute among themselves an Episcopal government as soon as it shall appear practicable, and that this government will not be attended with the danger of tyranny, either temporal or spiritual.
* Generally by deceptions on the Bishop of London.
t 1f there has been any, It mast hare been from so few as rather to corroborate than weaken the sentiment conveyed.
% Whether the above appendages would hare accompanied an English Bishop to America, the author is no judge. That they were generally feared by the Episcopalian laity, he thinks the only way of accounting for the cold reception they gave (a fact universally known) to every proposition for the introduction of a Bishop. Those who pleaded for the measure on a plan purely spiritual, thought he would not be invested by the laws of England, with such powers; bat in case it had proved otherwise, they proposed the limiting him by act of Parliament. What the people would have thought of measures which must have required an act of that body to render them harmless, no person formerly acquainted with their temper and sentiments need be told; and whether they judged right or not, recent events have abundantly shown.
But it is generally understood that the succession can not at present be obtained. From the parent Church most unquestionably it can not; whether from any is presumed to be more than we can at present be informed. But the proposal to constitute a frame of government, the execution of which shall depend upon the pleasure of persons unknown, differing from us in language, habits, and perhaps in religious principles, has too ludicrous an appearance to deserve consideration; the peculiar circumstances of the war in which our country is engaged, preclude us from procuring the succession in those quarters to which alone application could consistently be made > the danger of offending the British government, constraining (perhaps) a refusal of what it would of course be indelicate for us to ask. Now, on the one hand to depart from Episcopacy would be giving up a leading characteristic of the communion, which however indifferently considered as to divine appointment, might be productive of all the evils generally attending changes of this sort. On the other hand, by delaying to adopt measures for the continuance of the ministry, the very existence of the churches is hazarded, the duties of positive and indispensable obligation are neglected.
The conduct meant to be recommended, as founded on the preceding sentiments, is to include in the proposed frame of government, a general approbation of Episcopacy, and a declaration of an intention to procure the succession as soon as conveniently may be; but in the mean time to carry the plan into effect without waiting for the succession.
The first part of this proposal is conceived to be founded on the plain dictates of propriety, prudence, and moderation; for if the undertaking proceed on acknowledged principles, there will be far less shock to ancient habits, and less cause of intestine divisions than if new principles are to be sought for and established. To illustrate this by an allusion: had our old government been so adjusted to the genius of the people and their present circumstances, as at the Revolution to have required no further change than what necessarily arose from the extinction of royal authority, it is obvious that many pernicious controversies would have been prevented. Such, however, except in a few instances, was not the happiness of the colonies. But it is precisely the situation of the Episcopal Churches in their religious concerns, none of their constituent principles being thereby changed, but what were founded on the authority of the King.
In the minds of some, the idea of Episcopacy will be connected with that of immoderate power, to which it may be answered that power becomes dangerous, not from the precedency of one man, but from his being independent Had Rome been governed by a presbytery instead of a bishop, and had that presbytery been invested with the independent riches and dominion of the Papal See, it is easy to conceive of their acquiring as much power over the Christian world as was ever known in a Gregory or a Paul.
It may be further objected that Episcopacy is anti-Republican, and therefore opposed to those ideas which all good citizens ought to promote for securing the peace and happiness of the community. But this supposed relation between Episcopacy and monarchy arises from confounding English Episcopacy with the subject at large. In the early ages of the Church it was customary to debate and determine in a general concourse of all Christians in the same city, among whom the bishop was no more than president. Matters were indeed too often conducted tumultously, and after a manner which no prudent and peaceable man would wish to see imitated; but the churches were not the less episcopal on that accouut. Very few systems of religious discipline on this continent are equally republican with that proposed in the preceding pages. The adage of King James I., "No bishop, no king, and no king, 'no bishop," ought only to be understood concerning that degree of episcopal power together with its civil appendages, of which he certainly meant it.
But it will be also said that the very name of "Bishop" is offensive; if so, change it for another; let the superior clergyman be a president, a superintendent, or in plain English, and according to the literal translation of the original, an overseer. However, if names are to be reprobated because the powers annexed to them have been abused, there are few appropriated to either civil or ecclesiastical distinctions which would retain their places in our catalogue.
The other part of the proposal was an immediate execution of the plan, without waiting for the Episcopal succession. This is founded on the presumption that the worship of God and the instruction and reformation of the people are the principal objects of ecclesiastical discipline; if so, to relinquish them from a scrupulous adherence to Episcopacy is sacrificing the substance to the ceremony.
It will be said, we ought to continue as we are with the hope of obtaining it hereafter. But are the acknowledged ordinances of Christ's holy religion to be suspended for years, perhaps as long as the present generation shall continue, out of delicacy to a disputed point, and that relating only to externals? It is submitted, how far such ideas encourage the suspicion of want of attachment to any particular church except so far as is subservient to some civil system. All the obligations of conformity to the divine ordinances, all the arguments which prove the connection between public worship and the morals of a people, combine to urge the adopting some speedy measures to provide for the public ministry in these churches; if such as have been above recommended should be adopted, and the Episcopal succession afterwards obtained, any supposed imperfections of the intermediate ordinations might, if it were judged proper, bo supplied without acknowledging their nullity by a conditional ordination resembling that of conditional baptum in the Liturgy; the above was an expedient proposed by Archbishop Tillotson, Bishops Patrick, Stillingfleet, and others at the Revolution, and had been actually practised in Ireland by Archbishop BramhalL*
* Nichol's Defence of the Church of England. 1ntroduction.
But it will be said, the dropping the succession even for a time would be a departure from the principles of the Church of England. This prejudice is too common not to deserve particular attention.
It would be to the greatest degree surprising if the Church of England, acknowledged by all Protestant churches to lay a sufficient stress on the essential doctrines and duties of the Gospel, should be found so immoderately attached to a matter of external ordec as must in some cases be ruinous to her communion. But, far from this, it will not be difficult to prove that a temporary departure from Episcopacy in the present instance would be warranted by her doctrines, by her practice, and by the principles on which Episcopal government is asserted.
Whatever that Church holds must be included in the " thirty-nine articles of religion;" which were evidently intended for a comprehensive system of necessary doctrine. But what say these articles on the present subject? Simply that " the book of consecration of archbishops and bishops and the ordering of priests and deacons, doth contain all things necessary thereunto; neither hath it any thing that of itself is superstitious and ungodly."* The canons speak the same sense, censuring those who shall "affirm that the government of the Church of England by Archbishops, Bishops, etc., is anti-Christian or repugnant to the word of God."t And those who "shall affirm that the form and manner of making and consecrating bishops, priests, and deacons, containeth any thing in it that is repugnant to the word of God, or that they who are thus made bishops, etc., are not lawfully made, ete."t
How can such moderation of sentiment and expression be justified, if the Episcopal succession be so binding as to allow no deviation in a case of extreme necessity? Had the Church of England decreed concerning Baptism and the Lord's Supper, only that they were not repugnant to the word of God, "and that her offices for those sacraments were not superstitious and ungodly," would she not be censured by almost all Christendom, as renouncing the obligations of those sacraments? Equally improper would be the application of such moderate expressions to Episcopacy if (as some imagine) she considers it to be as much binding as Baptism and the Lord's Supper.
The book of consecration and ordination carries the idea no farther, except that the preface as altered at the Restoration (for it was not so in the old preface) affirms that " from the apostles' times there have been these orders in Christ's Church, Bishops, Priests and Deacons." But there is an evident difference between this and the asserting the unlawfulness of deviating from that practice in an instance extraordinary and unprovided for.
* Article 86. i Canon T. X Ctnon 8.
Next to the doctrine of the Church, let us inquire whether her practice will furnish us with a precedent to justify the liberty we plead.
Many of the English Protestants, during the persecution by Queen Mary, took refuge in foreign countries, particularly in Germany and Geneva. When Protestantism revived at the auspicious accession of Queen Elizabeth, and at the same time a cloud was gathering on the continent in consequence of the Emperor's victories over the princes of the Smalcaldic league, many of the exiles returned to their native land, some of whom, during their absence had been ordained according to the customs of the countries where they had resided; these were admitted without reordination to preach and hold benefices; one of them* was promoted to a deanry, but at the same time, as several of them were endeavoring to make innovations in the Established Church, it was provided in a law (13th Elizabeth 12) that " whoever shall pretend to be a priest or minister of God's holy word, by reason of any other form of institution, consecration, or ordering, than the form set forth by act of Parliament before the feast of the nativity of Christ next ensuing, shall in the presence of the Bishop declare his assent, and subscribe to all the articles of religion agreed on, etc."t Here existed an extraordinary occasion, not provided for in the institutions for common use; the exigency of the case seems to have been considered, and there followed a toleration, if not implied approbation, of a departure in that instance from episcopal ordination. There can not bo expected another example, because no similar instance of necessity has happened, unless that at the Restoration be considered as such; but it is presumed no stress will be laid on the omission of the like indulgence at that period, when the minds of the ruling Episcopalians, irritated by sufferings, were less intent on conciliation than Oq retaliation.|
Let us next take a view of the grounds on which the authority of Episcopacy is asserted.
The advocates for this form maintain that there having been an episcopal power originally lodged by Jesus Christ with his Apostles, and by them exercised generally in person, but sometimes by delegation, (as in the instances of Timothy and Titus,) the same was conveyed by them before their decease to one pastor in each church, which generally comprehended all the Christians in a city and a convenient surrounding district Thus were created
t Bishop Burnet says (History of his own Times, Anno 1661) that until the act of uniformity PUKd goon after the Restoration, " those who came to England from the foreign churches had not been required to be ordained among us." If so, the argument founded on [practice extends farther than It has been here urged. The act of Elizabeth, however, had no operation beyond the Christmas next ensuing; neither indeed did it pronounce that a good ordination which would tare been otherwise defective; but Its being meant to comprehend those who were At That Tim I; tanned with foreign non-episcopalian ordination, is evident from their being actually allowed toprtich and hold benefices, on the condition of their subscribing the thirty-nine articles.
J Bishop Burnet assigns a reason still less excusable, that many great preferments were in the kisdi of obnoxious persons, who, on account of their services towards the Restoration, could not •ttarwlK be rejected than by making the terms of conformity difficult. History of his own K«t, anno 1661.