Anglican Traitors?

An odd thought occurred to me recently. Someone please tell me if I’m guilty of a gross error, or if this is something real.
After the American Revolution, the Americans considered themselves a country apart from England, with new allegiances and loyalties. But a fair proportion of Americans must have been communicants in the Anglican Church. Wouldn’t they see their spiritual head as the King of England? Was there distrust of anyone who fet this way? Is this what caused the American Churches to call themselves “Episcopalian”?

For that matter, did the action of revolting against the King as head of the Church cause any signifiant crisis for Colonists who wanted to be loyal to both the American government and to the Crown spiritually? You never hear about any of this in the standard histories, yet it certainly was an issue when Immigration from largely Catholic countries like Ireland became a big thing in the following century. I know that the King doesn’t occupy the same place in Anglican theology that the Pope does in Catholic theology, but he is head of the Church.

Cal, the only King of England ever to be “Head of the Church” was Henry VIII. The title died with him. (I’ll accept a correction to that if it proves to be true for Edward VI as well.)

I could go into a long spiel about the polity of the Anglican Communion, the Episcopal Church, and the Church of England, but the bottom line is that the question is based on a fraudulent assumption, as regards Anglicans generally. (There were a number of Loyalists who believed their oaths to the King were binding even when he and his government were acting in intolerable ways. By and large, they emigrated to Ontario or to England. That’s a distinct question from the Anglican-faith issue raised here.)

Interestingly, a characteristic of Anglicanism is that is has “no international juridicial authority”, ie. no figure like the Pope who is the ultimate arbiter of either dogma or appointments. The Monarch’s role is limited to selecting bishops for England and Wales (although actually that’s now done by the Prime Minister, anyway). Once the Anglicans got to America, they were effectively their own branch of the church, with their own religous authoirty (such as it was). Anyone who still considered the Monarch their ultimate “master” would have done so in a political, not a spiritual sense. So, as Polycarp said, the OP is unfortunately based on a false premise.

According to the Beeb: the Monarch is the the Supreme Governor of the church (theologically Jesus is the head),

I would guess that we could look up the Acts of Succession and Supremacy to discover the language used to distinguish between the role and the title of the monarch.

Polycarp - I respect your knowledge of things religious, but then explain this, from the Wikipedia site on the Anglican Church:

(Bolding mine)

And, no, I’m not relying on the folks at Wiki here – I’ve seen quotes like this all my life. Has everyone been misinforming me?

It’s my understanding that the American Episcopal Church separated from the Anglican Church shortly after the Revolution for more or less the reasons stated in the OP. Is that incorrect? The Church of England was “established” in the British colonies, although it was soon disestablished after the DoI, which is one reason we have an “establishment clause” in the American consitution.

By the way “fraudulent” doesn’t merely mean incorrect, but implies an intent to deceive. If you think that’s my intrent or style, you haven’t been paying attention to anything I’ve posted.

Part of the reason the US church is called “Episcopalian” instead of “Anglican” is that after the Revolution the Church of England wouldn’t consecrate new bishops for the Americans so American Anglican priest went to Scotland to be consecrated by the Scottish Episcopal Church (which was independant of the crown).

I think that Henry VIII ( and possibly Edward VI, as noted by Polycarp) were the only ones to claim the title “Supreme Head” of the Church. My recollection is that Elizabeth I used the term “Supreme Governor”, in part because of concerns that a female could not be the Head of the church, and also as a form of constructive ambiguity, which the first Elizabeth relied on heavily in religious matters.

The current Queen remains the “Supreme Governor”, as stated by the Church of England’s website:

however, she is not part of the organization of any of the overseas churches in the Anglican Communion. Those churches were originally under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of London, and then became indepedent over time, without ever coming under the Crown’s direction.

Getting back to the OP, I remember reading in The duel (an account of the events leading up to the duel between Alexander Hamiltion and Aaron Burr) that one of the reasons Hamilton was viewed with suspicion was that he retained his membership in the Anglican church after US independence.

The role of the monarch in relation to the Church of England (note the distinction) is pretty nuanced, and fairly similar to the role he or she plays in relation to the British government – more ceremonial meaning than substance. Elizabeth I adopted a title distinct from “Head” which was, IIRC, “Governor” and of course retained the title Defensor Fidei granted her father by the Pope. (I see on preview that Northern Piper confirms this.) That title and role has come down undisturbed through the years. However, her role is pretty limited, and consists entirely in being the person who causes the Cathedral chapter in each diocese to elect a bishop from a slate of one, the one nominated by the Prime Minister in consultation with the Archbishop and other governing bodies of the church. And this holds exclusively for England – not Wales, Scotland, Ireland, or any of the other countries where there are Anglican churches, all of which are disestablished. She has no more say in matters ethical or theological than any other layman, and perhaps less, owing to the expectation that the Crown be above faction.

The American churches of Anglican use at the time of the Revolution were constrained by the fact that they were episcopal in polity, yet no bishops had been named for the New World. Not only were priests ordained in England, but every American gentleman of Anglican persuasion presented himself for confirmation when he first had occasion to go to England. At the end of the Revolution, the American Church met in 1784 to establish the Episcopal Church, and the Diocese of Connecticut sent Samuel Seabury for ordination. Owing to an interesting vagary in the English laws, he ended up being consecrated in Scotland by the Scottish Episcopal Church’s bishops, which is why the canton of the Anglican Church’s shield logo displays the St. Andrews Cross of Scotland. (This is not the Church of Scotland, which is presbyterian in polity, but the “episcopal” church of Scotland corresponding to the American Episcopal Church and the Church of England.)

Oh, and Cal, I had no intent to accuse you of fraudulence, but rather that, through ignorance or intent to deceive, people had presented the “head of the church” question as making the British monarch equivalent to the Pope, and you were echoing that, no doubt innocently. My apologies for the inadvertent slight.

Polycarp – thanks for the detailed explanation (I’ve always wondered about that shield used on signs giving directions to the local Episcopalian Church).

But, as far as I can see, it doesn’t really affect my initial question. Regardless of how much power the Monarch of the UK holds, that person is still the nominal and figurative head of the Church of England, and a Loyalist may well be as wary of rebelling against the Monarch as Head of the Church as much as or more than against the Head of State. And colonists loyal to the newly-created United States might be just as distrustful of someone still alleging loyalty to the British Crown as both spiritual and temporal head , regardless of how much power that individual may have actually held.

Episcopalian checking in here.

Yep, the Revolution caused a crisis alright. The church in America could hardly have as it’s head a foreign monarch. What to do?

All the Anglican bishops were back in England, and they would not consecrate an American as bishop. There’s a little something called “episcopal succession” in the church. A bishop has to be consecrated by other bishops, going to the “way back” beginning of the faith.

The Anglicans wouldn’t ordain Samuel Seabury as bishop, so as a previous poster mentioned, he got it done in Scotland, making an end run around the English church. Not all that long after a couple more were consecrated, and once the American church had it’s own bishops, they could continue the life of the church in this country.

The worldwide “Anglican Communion” is made up of over 30 national churches, with, in some cases, slightly differing practices. No one church, even the English church, with it’s Archbishop of Canterbury, has authority over another, but the AoC is kind of a spiritual head, or call it a mentor or arbiter.

The American church, called the Episcopal Church in the United States of America(ECUSA) is currently getting a LOT of flak from other members of the Anglican Communion, some of which may want to toss us out of the club.

See, we ordain women. So do some of the other national churches, although many do not allow it. But we go a little further. Not only will we ordain woman as priests, but we allow them to be bishops as well. Only two other members, New Zealand and, uh, Canada I think, have female bishops, although some supposedly allow the possibility.

Heh, heh. The ECUSA has gone even further than that though. Just this past Sunday a new Presiding Bishop was elected. The PB is the head of the ECUSA(we don’t use the term archbishop). The new PB is Katherine Schiori, and she will be the only female head of a member of the Anglican Communion. In particular some of the African churches object.

Then there’s the little matter of homosexuality. Gays can be ordained in the ECUSA. And Gene Robinson, who was elected bishop of the diocese of New Hampshire, is openly gay. Didn’t that set the cat amongst the pigeons.

A member of an English conservative church group has stated that “The Americans are going to do whatever they want to, no matter how the rest of us feel.” Darned old stick up the…ummm…posterior, yeah, that’s the word.

I really ought to point **swampbear ** towards this thread. He’s much more witty and articulate than I am, and he’s Episcopalian.

Did a bit of research.

By the statute 26 Hen. VIII (1534), c. 1 (Supremacy of the Crown), Henry VIII was described as “the only supreme head on earth of the Church of England.” That statute was subsequently repealed. I don’t have the date, but I would assume by one of Mary I’s Parliaments.

By the statute 1 Eliz. I (1558), c. 1 (Act of Supremacy), s. 9, Elizabeth I was described as “the Supreme Governor of the Relam in all spiritual and ecclesiastical causes as well as temporal.” That statute has also been repealed.

The Queen’s authority is now set out by the The Canons of the Church of England, Canon A7:

It’s my understanding that the Revolution weakened the Episcopal Church (which I believe had been the majority church in the Colonies) quite a bit. Many priests were forced to flee to Canada or England either because they were Loyalists or were suspected of being so. This was part of what made the issue of Episcopal Succession such an urgent one. There was a severe shortage of priests following the Revolution. The Bishops of England were the only ones who could ordain new priests, and they (as English citizens, not to mention members of the House of Lords) were naturally loyal to the King, personally and politically as much as theologically.

Interestingly, this same situation had probably even more effect on the Methodist Church. Methodism at the time was a predominantly lay movement within the Anglican Church, and Methodist leaders were suspected of Loyalism as much as Anglican clergy were: John Wesley was a strong detractor of the American rebellion. He was also a loyal member and clergyman of the Anglican Church.

Nevertheless, once American independence became a fait accompli, he recgnized the practical need for an independent church for its citizens. Early Methodism was a sacramental revival movement far more than most people realize, and Wesley was deeply disturbed by the Anglican heirarchy’s refusal to do anything to alleviate the shortage of priests in America, without whom no sacraments could be performed.

Wesley felt personally responsable for those Anglicans in America who were also Methodists, and he wrestled with himself over how to provide for their spiritual needs. He had previously advised all of his followers to recieve Holy Communion from their local priest at every opportunity. (Other Anglicans, like some Catholics today, would typically attend services without actually recieving the Communion that was offered.) That the Church had made the sacrament unavailable to so many of his followers was a grave situation.

One option was to authorize the lay leaders of the Methodist class meetings to celebrate the sacrament themselves, despite being unordained, but given Wesley’s views, that was nigh unthinkable. Instead he chose a seemingly more radical course of action.

Following extensive study of Scripture, he came to the conclusion that the office of Bishop and the office of Elder (the scriptural term for priests) were the same, and that the separation was one of practical governance, not theology. Every Anglican priest, therefore, was technically empowered by the Holy Spirit to perform ordination, despite being prohibited by Church law and the necessity of order. Given the extraordinary circumstances and the unconscionable neglect of the former colonists by the Chuch, however, Wesley felt justified in exercising his episcopal powers despite the extreme irregularity of doing so. He ordained two of his followers as Elders and layed hands on Thomas Coke, already an Anglican priest, authorizing him to act as “superintendant” of the American Methodists. He instructed Coke to ordain the (formerly lay) leader of the American Methodists, Francis Asbury, to act as co-superintendent with Coke. The two were then to ordain as many Elders as needed.

Asbury refused to accept ordination until and unless he was elected by the other lay preachers of the movement. He was, and Coke ordained him Deacon, Elder, and superintendent on three succesive days. (Wesley later criticized Asbury for adopting the title Bishop, despite the fact that “superintendent” was merely a literal transslation of the Greek word for bishop.) Coke himself, however, was never completely accepted by the Americans, and he eventually returned to England, making periodic trips to the US and other countries.

The conference of Methodist preachers at which Asbury was ordained marks the official founding of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the forrunner of The United Methodist Church. It never would have occured if the Bishop of London had agreed to ordain an American bishop.

Many thanks for these replies. They’re not exactly on topic, but they shed a great deal of light on a topic I’ve never read or heard discussed.

I understand the point you’re raising, and as I indicated in an earlier post, Alexander Hamilton apparently did come under some suspicion for this reason in some Patriot quarters. I would also agree that for a devout American Anglican in 1776, rebellion against the Crown could well have created both religious and secular issues of conscience - that’s why many of them came to Canada or other British possessions following the Revolution.

However, it’s not correct to refer to the Crown as the “spiritual head” of the Church of England. The Crown is not in holy orders and does not have any theological authority. The Crown’s role is restricted to the secular administration of the Church, on the advice of the Prime Minister.

Since my earlier post was rather off topic, I’ll try to answer the question of the OP directly. Note that I’m not a historian, and this is just based on my general sense of what I’ve read, including some things I read while composing yesterday’s post and what others have posted.

The Crown rarely if ever made direct theological pronouncements, except in support of his or her own authority and the authority of the Bishops (who were appointed by the Crown, and naturally felt some political loyalty). Whatever may have been promalgated theoretically by various kings at variouis times, the Crown functioned practically as the political ruler of the Church, not its spiritual leader. Many of the Patriots were, of course, members of the Anglican Church in good standing. I doubt most of them, as laymen, saw any conflict between being good churchmen and rebelling against the King. Today, Tony Blair chooses the Bishops of the Anglican Church, but I don’t think even the most devout Anglican feels any loyalty to Blair on that point.

Clergy were a different matter, however. Bishops were part of the political system of England, and had practical authority over the clergy under their jurisdiction. Since America was under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of London, any Anglican clergy would either have been Englishmen sent to America by the Bishop, or Americans who voluntarilly chose to travel to London to be ordained. (I don’t know which was more typical.) Either way, they not only had an English Lord as their “boss”, but had spent perhaps significant amount of time in England or were English themselves. I don’t know how many of the Anglican clergy fled during the Revolution, but I suspect it was a majority. As a point of comparison, Asbury was the only Methodist preacher from England to remain in America throughout the war; the rest fled.

One possible explanation to the OP may be that, unlike the fervent puritanism of the Pilgrims and other early colonists, 18th century residents of the British Colonies were simply less religious than they were political. They’d already lived with a disconnect from the mother church, some for all their lives; turning their backs on Canterbury was a lot easier than we can imagine. What I have read about the American Revolution and those who led it leads me to believe that they were considerably less religious than most Americans today. Allegiance to the Church of England simply wasn’t an issue.

You might want to check out this exhibit from the Library of Congress, which is about religion in the Revolutionary War. Check out the title “The Problems of the American Anglicans”

It looks at revisions in some congregations to the Book of Common Prayer, pointing out one church in Maryland that rewrote the Book of Common Prayer so that:

It also talks about how more than half of the American Anglican priests relinguished their pulpits, and about the formation of the Methodist Episcopal Church and reforms in the Presbyterian Church.

Some good responses thus far. Don’t have much to add, except that the Episcopal Church was formally established in 1785, just two years after the Treaty of Paris ended the Revolution. There was a House of Deputies (that is, priests and laypeople) even before the House of Bishops was established, due to the earlier-mentioned difficulties in having American bishops consecrated. Many Framers were Episcopalians, incl. George Washington, who several times served as an Anglican vestryman - even throughout the Revolution, although he didn’t make many of the meetings during that period… :wink:

When it came to American revisions to the Book of Common Prayer, references to the King were simply replaced with references to the President, references to the United Kingdom with references to the United States, and so on. I’ve never read that the shift in loyalties on the organized religious front was much different from, or any more problematic than, those on the political front.