Anglican Notables – Consecration of Samuel Seabury (Episcopal Church of the U.S.A.) – 14 November

[This is a series of biographical sketches of Anglican men and women whose lives have been exemplary in virtue and/or have made significant contributions to Anglicanism’s expression of the Gospel.  Written from the perspective of full communion with the See of St. Peter, including such papal statements as St. John Paul II’s encyclical on ecumenism, Ut Unum Sint, this series will occasionally acknowledge differences between Anglicans and Catholics where they exist and will do so in a spirit of charity and respect.  However, the intent is to focus less on differences than on opportunities for mutual enrichment between the Anglican and Catholic traditions and on shared spiritual treasures that already unite us.]

The Consecration of Samuel Seabury – 14 November 1784

[The image is of The Consecration of Samuel Seabury as memorialized in a stained-glass window in Old St. Paul’s Church, Edinburgh, Scotland.]

Samuel Seabury (30 November 1729 – 25 February 1796) was the first American Episcopal bishop, the second Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, and the first Episcopal bishop of Connecticut.  Politically, he was a loyalist during America’s conflict with Great Britain.  But once that conflict was settled, he was loyal to the new government.

Seabury’s importance for Anglicanism in the United States is in the fact that he was consecrated by Non-Juror bishops in Scotland (on 14 November 1784) “on the condition that he study the Scottish [form] of Holy Communion and work for its adoption [in America], rather than the English rite of 1662. To the present day, the American liturgy adheres to the main features of this rite in one of its Holy Eucharist Liturgies.”[1]

Seabury was not able to be consecrated by bishops of the Church of England because as an American citizen, he would not have been able to swear an oath of allegiance to England’s monarch.  But Seabury, already having lived in Edinburgh when he studied medicine there (albeit only for approximately a year), seems to have absorbed some of the theological perspective of the Non-Jurors as his own as well.

True to his word and his convictions, Seabury published his Communion Office in 1786, basing it on the Scottish eucharistic liturgy of 1764 rather than on the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.  The Prayer of Consecration in the 1662 BCP (and earlier versions) “ended with the Words of Institution; but the Scottish Rite Prayer continued with an oblation, anamnesis, epiclesis, intercessions and doxology based on the ancient classical models of consecration prayers. The Prayer was a mix of Roman and Orthodox doctrines with some Calvinist elements. The English Rites focused on the memorial to the exclusion of sacrificial language in the Prayer of Consecration. Such sacrificial language as remained was placed at the end of the service in an optional Prayer of Oblation at which point the congregation made a self-offering beseeching God ‘to accept our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.’ The removal of oblation from the prayer of consecration was done in order to avoid the suggestion that the Holy Eucharist was a material Peace Offering to God made by his Church in and with Christ with the very same sacrifice he had offered once for all and now made present as a sacrament.[2] The restoration of the full Eucharistic Prayer taken from the Scottish Rite included the words, ‘which we now offer unto thee,’ after ‘with these thy holy gifts.’ The prayer continued after the oblationary words with, ‘the memorial thy Son hath commanded us to make,’ in the American Prayer Book thereby restoring the connection between ‘prayers and supplications’ and the self-offering of the congregation with and through the consecrated elements. The changes fairly undid Cranmer’s intentions of 1549 and 1552.[3]  The adoption of the Scottish Rite brought the Episcopal Church’s eucharistic doctrine closer to the tradition of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.”[4]

Another achievement of Seabury’s, though it took time to bear fruit, was his support for the restoration of weekly celebration of Holy Communion “rather than the infrequent observance that became customary” in most traditions that flowed from the various Reform movements of the sixteenth century.[5]  In his An Earnest Persuasive to Frequent Communion, published in 1789, Seabury “wrote that ‘when I consider its importance, both on account of the positive command of Christ, and of the many and great benefits we receive from it, I cannot but regret that it does not make a part of every Sunday’s solemnity.’ Seabury was ahead of his time, but within a century the custom of weekly 8 am Eucharist even in ‘Low Church’ parishes (in addition to the monthly 1st Sunday of the month Holy Communion) was rapidly spreading through many Anglican congregations under the impact of the Liturgical Movement.  By the end of the 20th century many other Protestant denominations had adopted weekly communion if this had not already been their practice.”

Br. John-Bede Pauley OSB, PhD

    St. John’s Abbey

    jpauley@csbsju.edu


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Seabury

[2] Bard Thompson, Liturgies of the Western Church (1961), 235. 

[3] Alan Dunstan, “The Eucharist in Anglicanism after 1662,” in The Study of Liturgy, ed. Jones, Wainwright, Yarnold, Bradshaw (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 318-321.

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Seabury

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Seabury

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