Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Samuel Seabury's Eucharistic Ecclesiology: Ecclesial Implications of a Sacrificial Eucharist

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Samuel Seabury's Eucharistic Ecclesiology: Ecclesial Implications of a Sacrificial Eucharist

Article excerpt

Oamuel Seabury, first bishop of the American Episcopal Church, had a quiet but profound influence in shaping both the ministerial order and the Eucharistic theology of the Episcopal Church. Scholars have often discussed Seabury's efforts toward an American ecclesiology in his understanding of the office and work of a bishop. On the other hand, beginning from the generation immediately following Seabury, historians have contested Seabury's Eucharistic views. They draw little connection between these two areas of his thought. Seabury's insistence on the necessity of the office of bishop stemmed not only from his understanding of the safeguard episcopacy provided against the liturgical and doctrinal confusion of American Christianity, but grew directly out of his Eucharistic commitments. For Seabury, the Eucharistic sacrifice defined the church and its orders in a way that would anticipate the ecclesiology of the Oxford Movement and other movements of mid-nineteenth century Europe.

Paul Victor Marshall has reviewed recent historiographic treatment of Samuel Seabury.1 E. E. Beardsley's 1881 biography portrayed Seabury as a champion for Trinitarian orthodoxy, an advocate for an enriched Eucharistic liturgy and a tireless pastoral visitor.2 Beardsley's account of Seabury's work in helping to forge an identity and liturgy for the new American church became the standard account for nearly a century. Beginning, however, with Carl Bridenbaugh in 1961 and continuing with Bruce Steiner's biography in 1971 and Marion Hatchett's 1982 account of the composition of the first American prayer book, recent historians have portrayed Seabury either as clueless about his liturgical commitments to his Scottish consecrators, or worse, even conniving against his own clergy and the rest of the church in order to placate his consecrators by introducing the Scottish communion service intothe American book. Marshall has carefully assessed the available evidence and has shown that Seabury's Eucharistic theology remained remarkably stable across his entire ordained career. Marshall's work also reassessed Seabury's attitude toward episcopacy. Seabury's recent critics, particularly Bridenbaugh, had seen the American effort for the episcopacy as a disingenuous effort to keep the colonies within the British sphere. According to Bridenbaugh, the loyalism of the advocates of an American episcopate called into question their commitment to a purely ecclesiastical episcopacy. Marshall instead painted a picture of Seabury as a man without pretensions to power, who learned of his election to the episcopate during the evacuation of loyalists to Nova Scotia, where he intended to go himself. Instead, on learning of his election, he returned to follow the harder path of spending himself in his indefatigable work in his diocese.

Episcopacy in America

Others have rehearsed the history of the effort to introduce the episcopacy to the colonies. Arthur Lyon Cross has provided the most extensive and balanced documentary history.1 * * 4 Carl Bridenbaugh interpreted the efforts of the protagonists as a disingenuous attempt to cement the loyalty of the colonies to the crown.5 H. G. G. Herklots has told the story from a partisan and favorable 6perspective and has seen in American efforts for the episcopate the birth of the Anglican Communion.* 6 Elizabeth Nybakken has collected the bits and pieces of the newspaper wars that resulted from Thomas Bradbury Chandler's (1726 - 1790) publication calling for an American episcopate, and has shown how the debaters politicized the issue at the time.7 John Fredrick Wolverton has reviewed a broad range of literature to show that the Church of England in the various colonies had by no means reached a consensus on the necessity or advisability of an American episcopate.8

Whatever churchmen in other colonies may have thought about an American bishop, churchmen in Connecticut held firmly to the necessity of an episcopal polity. …

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