Friday, January 08, 2010

Political Theology and the Establishment of the Episcopate in Founding Era America:

Rev. Brian Tubbs' post at American Creation on Samuel Seabury raises vitally important points, not well enough understood by students of religion & the American Founding.

Seabury was the first Episcopal Bishop consecrated in America ("On March 25, 1783, ten Connecticut clergy elected Samuel Seabury as their bishop.") Seabury was also a devout loyalist whose political-theology informed his defense of Toryism.

Also, Seabury was, as Rev. Tubbs noted, the "farmer" to whom Alexander Hamilton referred in his classic "The Farmer Refuted." There Hamilton, arguing the cause of revolution, invoked, not the Bible or orthodox Christian doctrine, but the natural law of "Grotius, Puffendorf, Locke, Montesquieu, and Burlemaqui" that may (or not) be compatible with the Bible/orthodox Christianity.

The good Bishop's idea of "unlimited submission" to government that Hamilton et al. opposed dominated the historic Christian understanding -- of the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant variety -- for over 1600 years, until the era of "revolution." Yet, the "Whig" understanding of a right to revolt (or "resist") as per Romans 13, as with other "Christian heresies" like theological unitarianism and universalism, perhaps could trace many years before "Enlightenment." The theological-philosophical roots of such understanding certainly can.

Yes, some dissident/heretical doctrines within Christendom trace hundreds, some over a thousand years before Enlightement. After all, refuting Arianism (a form of unitarianism) motivated the Nicene Creed in 325 AD. Yet, "Enlightenment theology" -- especially the American and British variety -- disproportionately embraced heresies like unitarianism, universalism, and the right to revolt in the face of Romans 13.

Rev. Tubbs, in his post, notes Peter Lillback's book "George Washington's Sacred Fire," which recites important facts on the late 18th Century American Anglican/Episcopal dynamic. Yet, Lillback's account is woefully inadequate (ironic in that Lillback took 1200 pages to make his case!).

The biggest problem with Lillback's tome is his construction of false dichotomies. Either GW was "Deist" or "Christian" (which Lillback reads as "orthodox Christian"). Since Lillback demonstrates GW wasn't a "Deist," then he must have been an "orthodox Christian." Arguably the book demolishes a strawman GW "Deist" and props up a false "orthodox Trinitarian" Washington.

Lillback's Chapter 15 on "George Washington, the Low Churchman" exemplifies this logically fallacious paradigm. Accordingly, "high church Anglicanism" -- by its nature "Toryish" -- was characterized by adherence to traditional "Church of England" customs and apostolic authority. "Low church Anglicanism" -- "Whiggish" -- was characterized by a more decentralized local church autonomy that adhered to Calvinistic "biblical" authority. Of course, according to Lillback, low church Anglicanism, even of the "latitudinarian" variety Washington embraced didn't stray from orthodox Christian, biblically infallible grounds.

And therein lies the fatal error in Lillback's model: 1) Low church, 2) latitudinarian, 3) Whiggish 4) Anglican-Episcopalian, ESPECIALLY IN 5) VIRGINIA, oft-slipped into deistic, unitarian, Enlightenment, infidel "theology," despite Lillback's failure to show the movement strictly adhered to "orthodoxy."

This FIVE POINT theology forms a lowest common denominator between Thomas Jefferson (heterodox) and Patrick Henry (orthodox). That is, demonstrating GW fit these five points (which he, Henry, Jefferson, George Mason, James Madison, John Marshall, George Wythe, and other notables did) no more demonstrates GW "orthodox" than "heterodox."

Briefly, consider proven deistic-unitarian minded Anglicans, Jefferson & Wythe, as Vestrymen for said church in VA, and Marshall's daughter's testimony that he refused communion because he was a unitarian (disbelieved in Christ's Atonement, what the Act symbolized). The same can be said of Washington (though GW never disclosed his reasons for avoiding communion).

Lillback's discussion of the original American Episcopal Bishops likewise demonstrates a false dichotomy that attempts to constrain "high" and "low" church Episcopalianism within the bounds of "orthodoxy." Lillback notes Bishop Seabury of New England the quintessential "high church" Episcopalian. He then notes "Virginia" ("lower" in America geographically, a metaphor for high v. low church Anglicanism) typified the "low Church" and invokes and Bishops William White (of Philadelphia) and Samuel Provoost (of New York) as "low churchers." Accordingly, Provoost was the quintessential low churcherer, with White, though a Whig/committed revolutionary, somewhere in between because he more sympathized with the Tory-Anglican hierarchy. (See Lillback, "Sacred Fire," Chapter 15.)

That enables Lillback to fabricate a narrative -- as badly speculative as anything Paul F. Boller posited in "George Washington & Religion" (the scholarly standard bearer work that Lillback fails to rebut, insofar as Boller casts doubt on GW's status as an orthodox Christian) -- of GW not wanting to commune in Philadelphia under the leadership of the Bishop William White and Rev. James Abercrombie because they were too "Tory" sympathetic (even though White was a Whig).

But Lillback's most serious error in his discussion on original American Episcopal Bishops is that by omission. As noted, Lillback names the "three" original bishops -- Seabury (N.E.), White (Phila.) and Provoost (NY). Yet, Lillback, rightly invokes Virginia as typifying the "low church" Anglicanism to which GW adheres but fails to discuss the actual FOURTH original American Episcopal Bishop: James Madison, first cousin of his namesake.

If VA -- where GW and a slew of notable Anglican-Episcopal Founding Fathers (Jefferson, Madison, Henry, Mason, Marshall and many others) hailed -- why avoid Madison, the FOURTH Episcopal bishop consecrated in America? The timeline of Madison's appointment is congruent with the rest. As this official source notes:

On March 25, 1783, ten Connecticut clergy elected Samuel Seabury as their bishop. Seabury traveled to England, but English canon law prevented the consecration of any clergyman who would not take the Oath of Allegiance to the English Crown. Seabury then sought consecration in the Scottish Episcopal Church, where he was ordained on Nov. 14, 1784 in Aberdeen. Thus, Seabury became the first bishop of the American Episcopal Church.

By 1786, English churchmen had helped change the law so the Church of England could offer episcopal consecration to those churches outside England.

On Feb. 4, 1787, the Archbishop of Canterbury and three other English bishops consecrated William White as Bishop of Pennsylvania and Samuel Provoost as Bishop of New York. Soon after, James Madison was consecrated in England as the Bishop of Virginia and President of The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg.

And the following from Colonial Williamsburg notes: "On 19 September 1790 in Lambeth Chapel, Canterbury, England, Madison was consecrated bishop by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the bishops of London and Rochester."

BJM garnered praise from America's "Virginian" Founders, at least from Jefferson who loved him. I don't know if BJM were unitarian like Jefferson. David Holmes in his seminal book, categorizes BJM as "orthodox." I know the harder orthodox types suspected BJM of being an "infidel." And that's because BJM peddled Enlightenment, revolutionary, indeed pro-French revolutionary, natural theology. He was the quintessential, not only American Whig, but Jacobin.

That is, Madison typified the kind of "rational Christian" who thought the French Revolution extended the American, that the Bible taught a "Republic," not a "Kingdom" of Heaven, and that "revolutionary republican" principles would continue "until the complete restoration of the human race to their inherent rights be accomplished, throughout the globe." A "republic" of "liberty, equality, and fraternity," that America initialized and France would perfect.

Again, all this presenting itself under the auspices of "Christianity" not "Deism." This what it meant to be a "low Church Anglican" in late 18th Century America as much as anything "orthodox" or "Calvinistic."

Ultimately, the historical truth Lillback avoids because he doesn't like the results is, "low church Episcopalianism" of late 18th Century America, by its decentralized, Protestant nature, unmoored from hierarchical authority, "slipped" into rationalistic, enlightement, deistic-unitarian theology as easily as it did biblical Calvinism.

Indeed, even in "high church" New England, the "Whig" Anglican-Episcopalian "King's Chapel" became "Unitarian" in 1786 (arguably the first "official" Unitarian Church in America) resulting from a conflict with, you got it, Bishop Samuel Seabury.

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