Tuesday, June 10, 2008

On the Way to the Quadrilateral

The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral outlines the basis on which the Episcopal Church—and more broadly the Anglican Communion—seeks reconciliation and communion with other Christian bodies. As with any major church document, the Quadrilateral did not just fall out of the sky. Numerous historical, cultural, and theological sources contributed to the articulation of the principles by which Episcopalians and Anglicans seek to transcend denominational divisions in the body of Christ. The Quadrilateral construes the essential identity of the Church in terms of scripture, creeds, sacraments, and the episcopate. This is because the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral represents the crystallization of centuries of Christian thought into a concise statement of principles that, insofar as they undergird ecclesial identity, provide the basis for ecumenical dialogue. In this posting, I will provide a brief (!) outline of theological sources that made possible the formulation and acceptance of the Quadrilateral by the General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States in 1886 and the Lambeth Conference of 1888.


Early Church Fathers
“In some form,” writes theologian Charles P. Price, “the four Lambeth Articles lie deep in the development of the Christian church” (1988, 85). Holy Scripture, the Creeds, the Sacraments, and the Episcopate—time and again in the history of Christian thought, theologians and church councils appeal to these four aspects of the Church to maintain and defend orthodox Christian faith. This can be seen in the writings of the early Church Fathers. Price argues that while the early Church Fathers do not group them together in the systematic way of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, their writings are nevertheless full of references to the four articles of scripture, creeds, sacraments, and episcopate. He notes that Ignatius understood the Eucharist as “a sign of unity” intrinsically connected to the episcopate, Tertullian and Irenaeus articulated a rule of faith that anticipated the Apostles’ Creed, and Irenaeus pointed to the bishops as “an outward indication of the unity of the Christian faith from the beginning” (ibid., 82).

Church historian J. Robert Wright agrees. He notes that the Church Fathers “developed a Christian ‘orthodoxy’ that centered for the most part around four points that happen to be the same as those of the Quadrilateral” (1988, 43). In opposition to the Gnostic claim that the Hebrew Scriptures depict a different God from that revealed in Jesus Christ, the Fathers appealed to the unity of the canon as a warrant for the continuity of creation and redemption in salvation history (ibid.). Likewise, the Fathers opposed heretical claims to truth by pointing to the creeds as the summation of the apostle’s teaching, a teaching “uniform throughout the whole Christian world” (ibid., 44). The Fathers also fought against the Gnostic view that matter is evil by turning to the church’s sacraments as a warrant for “developing a sacramental view of the universe” in which the material and the spiritual are intrinsically related rather than mutually exclusionary (ibid.). Wright also notes that the Fathers appealed to the episcopate—the public succession of bishops whose teachings are in continuity with each other—to counter the Gnostic claim to possess secret knowledge leading to salvation. “These four institutions [of Holy Scripture, creeds, sacraments, and the episcopate],” writes church historian E. Glenn Hinson, “were the cardinal ways in which the (early) church ‘constructed’ itself—that is, drew its boundaries and articulated itself in relation to its source in the gospel” (quoted in Wright 1988, 44).

The patristic appeal to scripture, creedal formulas, sacraments, and the episcopate served both negative and positive functions. Negatively, it provided a way to rebut heretical claims to truth. Positively, it helped to define the fundamental parameters of the true Church and the orthodox faith for succeeding generations. This positive and negative legacy finds expression in the Quadrilateral insofar as the document provides grounds for rejecting certain bodies as possible candidates for communion (e.g., Christian groups that reject any possible role for the episcopate) even as it forms the basis for Anglican self-understanding in ecumenical dialogue.

Classical Anglicanism
Classical Anglican theologians maintained continuity with the patristic emphasis on scripture, creeds, sacraments, and the episcopate in their efforts to define the Church in England against radical Protestant reformers and Catholic traditionalists. Writing to the authorities in Rome in An Apology of the Church of England (1562), John Jewel (1522-1571) argued that, in spite of reforms, the Church in England remains continuous with the apostolic fathers and Holy Scripture. Much of the work is polemical in nature, but in the second section of the Apology Jewel lays out what he regards as the characteristic beliefs of Ecclesia Anglicana (cf. Price 1988, 82). Jewel introduces the discussion of “our faith wherein we stand” by affirming its confirmation “by the words of Christ, by the writings of the apostles, by the testimonies of the catholic fathers, and by the examples of many ages” (Jewel 1963, 21). Among the many articles of Anglican belief highlighted by Jewel, several warrant attention as background sources for the succinct formulation of the Quadrilateral.

Jewel begins by noting the Anglican belief in the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The language he uses echoes that found in the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds. Jewel also affirms Anglican belief in “one church of God” that is “catholic and universal and dispersed throughout the whole world” (1963, 24). Because of its catholic and universal character, Jewel maintains, “there is now no nation which can truly complain that they be shut forth and may not be one of the church and people of God” (ibid.). In intention if not rhetoric, Jewel highlights the inclusive nature of the Church’s catholic and universal character. Foreshadowing the language of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, Jewel also maintains that Anglicans regard baptism and Eucharist as the two primary sacraments of the Church that “were delivered and sanctified by Christ” (1963, 31).

Jewel asserts the Anglican belief in the three-fold order of ministry. In the Church “there be divers degrees of ministers … whereof some be deacons, some priests, some bishops, to whom is committed the office to instruct the people and the whole charge and setting forth of religion” (Jewel 1963, 24). Jewel rejects the idea of the papacy on the grounds that “no one mortal creature … is able to comprehend or conceive in his mind the universal church” (ibid.). And although he does not explicitly say that the fullness of Christian ministry resides in the episcopate, Jewel defends the legitimate ministry of bishops by appealing to the writings of the apostolic fathers of figures like Jerome, Cyprian, and Augustine, as well the councils of Nicea and Carthage (ibid.).

With regard to scripture, Jewel maintains that Anglicans gratefully “receive and embrace all the canonical Scriptures, both of the Old and New Testament” as the light of revealed truth that overcomes “errors and lies” (1963, 30). Jewel is worth quoting at length on this point. He writes that in Holy Scripture we hear

… the heavenly voices whereby God hath opened unto us his will; and that only in them man’s heart can have settled rest; that in them be abundantly and fully comprehended all things, whatsoever be needful for our salvation, as Origen, Augustine, Chrysostom, and Cyril have taught, that they be the very might and strength of God to attain salvation; that they be the foundations of the prophets and apostles whereupon is built the church of God; that they be the very sure and infallible rule whereby may be tried whether the church doth stagger or err and whereunto all ecclesiastical doctrine ought to be called to account; and that against these Scriptures neither law, nor ordinance, nor any custom ought to be heard; no, though Paul himself, or an angel from heaven, should come and teach the contrary (ibid., 30).

Several points are worth noting from this passage. First, in good Protestant fashion, Jewel propounds a very high doctrine of scripture. Scripture not only reveals the will of God; it also forms the foundation on which is built the Church, as well as “the very sure and infallible rule” for testing the Church’s truth claims. By laying out “whatsoever be needful for our salvation,” Scripture takes priority over the Church. Jewel’s language foreshadows the language found in Resolution 11 of the Lambeth Conference of 1888 which affirms the “Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as ‘containing all things necessary to salvation,’ and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith” (1979, 877). Furthermore, as the discussion to follow will suggest, Jewel’s appeal to the principle of antiquity—for which the authority of the apostolic and patristic eras overrides the innovations of later theologians—discloses a defining mark of Anglican thinking about the Church.

The writings of Richard Hooker (1554-1600) also show a reliance on the four principles articulated in the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. Hooker is often credited with formulating the so-called “three-legged stool” of Anglicanism: scripture, tradition, and reason. While it may be true that Hooker does not explicitly state that scripture, tradition, and reason are the founding principles of his theology, he does invoke these principles on almost every page of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (1593, 1597, 1648, 1662).[1] It is worth noting, however, that the Anglican understanding of “tradition” covers two of the principles outlined in the Quadrilateral. “In the broadest sense,” writes church historian Lee W. Gibbs, “‘tradition’ in the Anglican communion has included the canons and creeds of the early ‘ecumenical’ councils, including the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and, until recently, the so-called ‘Athanasian’ Creed” (1991, 8). In addition to the teachings of the Church Fathers, one could also add the liturgical forms associated with the sacramental rites of Eucharist and baptism as components of tradition. Considered one of the most important sources of Anglican theology, Hooker provides extensive discussions and defenses of the authoritative role of scripture, creeds, sacraments, and the episcopate in the Church.

Space precludes detailed discussion of Hooker’s rich discussions of these matters, but a few points should be made. Like other Anglican theologians, Hooker regards Holy Scripture as the supreme authority in the life of the Church. While Hooker explicitly acknowledges the role of reason in interpretation—maintaining, for example, that exclusive reliance on scripture is demeaning to human reason and dangerous to the order of the Church—he also maintains that Holy Scripture is the final word on matters about which it speaks (1990, 94ff). Like Jewel, Hooker teaches that scripture contains all things necessary to salvation (ibid., 81). “Scripture,” writes Hooker, “teacheth all supernatural revealed truth, without the knowledge whereof salvation cannot be attained” (ibid., 117). Hooker only adds that reason provides “a necessary instrument” for rightly reading scripture, for the proposition that “the Scriptures are the oracles of God” is not self-evident but dependent upon prior knowledge as to the character of holy writ (ibid.). Likewise, Hooker rejects private interpretation of scripture, arguing that “when we know the whole Church of God hath [a certain] opinion of the Scripture, we judge it even at the first an impudent thing for any man bred and brought up in the Church to be of a contrary mind without cause” (ibid., 118).

Hooker’s subordination of the individual’s use of reason to the authority of the Church provides a transition into his views on the episcopate. In response to Puritan attacks, Hooker defends the office of bishop on several grounds (cf. 1990, 185-190). First, Hooker appeals to the principle of antiquity when he notes that bishops have been present in the Church from the time of the apostles. Indeed, Hooker observes, the apostles themselves governed over the early Church as bishops. Second, the authority of the episcopate has provided a bulwark of unity against the corrosive evils of heresy and schism. In the third place, Hooker affirms the constraining power of episcopal authority. “Authority is a constraining power,” he writes, “which power were needless if we were all such as we should be, willing to do the things we ought to do without constraint” (ibid., 187). Bishops exercise the authority to enforce the constitutions and canons on which sound Church order and governance depend. Without the “vigilant care” exercised by the episcopate, Hooker argues, the Church would fall prey to the human tendency to neglect Christian duty (ibid.). And finally, Hooker defends the episcopate as the institutional guarantor of the legitimacy of Holy Orders. While he concedes possible exceptions to the rule under extreme circumstances, Hooker insists that “none may ordain but only bishops” since “by the imposition of their hands … the Church giveth power of order, both unto presbyters and deacons” (ibid., 189).

No sustained discussion of the creeds occurs in The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, but what Hooker does say about them is consistent with the intentions of the Quadrilateral. Hooker notes the importance of the creeds for maintaining a repository of orthodox faith in the face of heresy. He mentions the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, but gives a special place of honor to the Athanasian Creed. Hooker understands the creeds as “catholic declarations of our belief” handed down by persons closer in time to the origins of Christian faith (1863, 182). He continues by noting that, because “these confessions [function] as testimonies of our continuance in the same faith to this present day, we rather use [them] than any other gloss or paraphrase devised by ourselves, which though it were to the same effect, notwithstanding could not be of the like authority and credit” (ibid.). In other words, Hooker appeals to a principle of antiquity as the warrant for the authority of the classical creeds in the Church.

Hooker also responds to the Puritan elevation of word over sacrament by invoking the Anglican via media. He insists that all Christians “have the seed of their regeneration by the ministry of the Church which useth to that end and purpose not only the Word, but the Sacraments, both having generative force and virtue” (1990, 149-150). Word and sacrament are both necessary components of the Christian life. Neither can be privileged over the other. “Sacraments,” writes Hooker, “are the powerful instruments of God to eternal life” (ibid., 150). Indeed, they are instituted by God and function as necessary means to “life supernatural” due to their nature as “moral instruments of salvation” by which human beings obediently respond to and cooperate with God’s grace (ibid., 157; Hooker’s emphasis). Therefore, sacraments cannot be dismissed or relegated to an inferior place of honor in the Church. Significantly, Hooker highlights two sacraments as primary for the Church in Book V of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity: Baptism and Eucharist (ibid., 160-176).

The Nineteenth-Century
Frederick Denison Maurice (1805-1872) was perhaps the greatest Anglican theologian of the nineteenth century. Writing during the cultural and social transformations created by the English Industrial Revolution, Maurice is often remembered as a pivotal figure in the development of the Christian Socialist Movement. Central to his theology is the conviction that the gospel of Jesus Christ calls for more than mere personal holiness. The gospel demands “social redemption” and transformation (Gibbs 1991, 60).

Many regard The Kingdom of Christ; or Hints Respecting the Principles, Constitution, and Ordinances of the Catholic Church (orig. 1838; rev. 1842) as Maurice’s theological magnum opus. Indeed, according to J. Robert Wright, some regard this work as the principle influence on the articulation of the principles informing the Quadrilateral (cf. Wright 1988, 24).[2] Wright points out that arguments for a British origin for the Quadrilateral are not widely accepted among historians. However, it can hardly be denied that Maurice gave expression to ideas that were “in the air” at the time. In particular, Maurice’s discussion of the signs of a spiritual society may have helped pave the way for the positive reception of the Chicago Quadrilateral at the Lambeth Conference of 1888.

By the term “spiritual society,” Maurice means “a real kingdom of heaven upon earth” whose principles and moral character can be discerned in the midst of the changes and chances of history (1843, 239). The Christian Church provides the best institutional expression of this spiritual society in history. Indeed, one could perhaps argue that, for Maurice, the Church is the sacrament of the Kingdom of God. The Christian Church, he writes, “is a divine society … existing by virtue of God’s presence acting through the divinely instituted ordinances of baptism, Eucharist, and ministry” (Woodhouse-Hawkins 1988, 63).

According to Maurice, there are six signs that identify the spiritual society of the Church. These signs include baptism, the creeds, forms of worship, the Eucharist, the ministry, and the scriptures. These signs, according to Lee W. Gibbs, “are explicated [by Maurice] in the order in which human beings are drawn into communion with Christ” (1991, 68). The community that embodies these signs in its spiritual life provides the grounds for realizing a central petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Maurice’s list of spiritual signs is important because it articulates principles which previous Anglican and patristic writers did not consciously group together or systematize.

Baptism provides ritual admittance into the “common society” established by the union of “the visible and invisible world” in the person of Jesus Christ (ibid., 241). The creeds—by which Maurice means the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds—provide a repository of truths that have outlived the rise and fall of civilizations, making it possible for persons to say “I believe” anew in succeeding generations. Forms of worship provide the necessary means by which persons may corporately adore God. In spite of the controversies and misunderstandings surrounding the sacrament, Maurice argues that the Eucharist dramatizes the truth of Christianity as both “transcendent and practical, surpassing men’s thoughts, independent on men’s faith and opinions, and yet essentially belonging to man, the governing law of his being, [and] the actuating power of his life” (ibid., 312). Furthermore, the Eucharist provides the sacramental grounds for the Church’s “permanency, coherency, [and] vitality throughout all generations” (ibid.).

With regard to forms of ministry, Maurice extols the importance of the episcopate against critics who impugn the office as morally bankrupt. The very nature of the episcopate, Maurice notes, lies in maintaining fellowship with persons who live in different places, speak different languages, and observe different customs (1843, 344). Exercised for the sake of creating and maintaining fellowship, the office of bishop is a force for unity. The episcopate seeks the creation of a universal fellowship of believers. At the same time, Maurice defends the episcopate as an order of ministry intrinsic to the Church. He writes:

And yet this episcopacy has not been merely an accidental addition to, or overgrowth upon other forms of priesthood. In those countries where it is recognised, it has been the root of all other forms, and has been supposed to contain them within it (ibid., 344-345; emphasis added).

Other orders of ministry, such as the diaconate and the priesthood, derive their authority from the bishop. The episcopate, in other words, contains the fullness of Christian ministry. Maurice goes even further. He argues that, if the Kingdom of Christ is a reality “for the sake of men” and dependent upon “the agency of men,” it must have officers who “bring before men the fact that they are subject to an invisible and universal Ruler” who came into the world to serve rather than to be served and to absolve persons from the sins that bind them (ibid., 347). The office of the bishop exists, Maurice maintains, for this very purpose.

And finally, Maurice turns to Holy Scripture as a sign of a spiritual society. Scripture, he argues, contains “a spiritual and universal constitution” for the ordering of human life “revealed first to a particular family, then to a particular nation, then, through that family and nation, to mankind” (1843, 392). The components of this “divine constitution for man” include the other five spiritual signs: baptism, creeds, forms of worship, Eucharist, and ministry (ibid.). Scripture, in other words, simultaneously contains the signs of an authentic spiritual society while being itself a sign of that very society. Maurice implicitly invokes the Anglican via media against Protestantism’s elevation of scripture over the Church and Roman Catholicism’s elevation of the Church over scripture. Scripture and Church are inseparably intertwined and mutually illuminating for Maurice. “The Church exists as a fact, the Bible shows what that fact means,” he writes (ibid., 416). Conversely, “The Bible is a fact, [and] the Church shows what that fact means” (ibid., 416-417). Maurice’s meaning is clear: no Bible, no Church; no Church, no Bible.[3]

Writing in the United States around the same time as Maurice in England, Thomas H. Vail (1812-1899) published The Comprehensive Church; or, Christian Unity and Ecclesiastical Union in the Protestant Episcopal Church (1841). At the time, Vail was rector of Christ Church in Westerly, Rhode Island. He was later consecrated the first bishop of Kansas on December 15, 1864 (Armentrout and Slocum 1999, 535).

As the title of Vail’s work suggests, he was deeply committed to ecumenism and the struggle for achieving visible unity among Christian churches. In this respect, Vail’s work prepares the ground for that of William Reed Huntington. In The Comprehensive Church, Vail proposes that the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of American embodies a sufficiently “comprehensive system” of ecclesiastical organization and theological conviction to accommodate the multiplicity of Christian denominations into one body (1879, 35; Vail’s emphasis). The basis for Christian unity, he argues, lies in antiquity. Unity must be based upon a maxim inherited from the Church of apostolic times. This maxim includes three principles that ground a truly catholic, and thus universal and comprehensive, Christian Church “‘In necessariis unitas; in non necessariis libertas; in omnibus caritas’—unity in essentials; liberty in non-essentials; love in everything” (ibid., 36). The principle of unity in essentials points to the bottom line of belief that defines a truly Christian Church. Only with respect to these essential points must the Church enforce conformity in worship and doctrine. The principle of liberty in non-essentials refers to the willingness of the Church to compromise on the “thousand comparatively unimportant particulars” of different preferences and proclivities for the sake of unity (ibid., 61). And the principle of love in everything underscores Christ’s mandate that Christians love one another as He loves them, a mandate that reinforces Christian unity.

Based upon the three principles of this maxim, Vail offers the following definition that differentiates the true Christian Church from all forms of sectarianism:

What is a Church? It is an association of all the true disciples of Christ, acknowledging His gospel for their rule of faith and practice, of every variety of personal opinion and talent and temperament and condition. To our mind the very name of a Church suggests the most comprehensive idea. … The object of a Church is a continuing and extending of the worship and service of God, according to the gospel; and when this, the only object of an ecclesiastical system, is effected, all other things should be left in the liberty of nature. A Church founded upon these principles is the only one, we confess, which commends itself to our sympathies; and we cannot acknowledge one which rests upon a narrower foundation as illustrating the true idea of a Christian Church (ibid., 39; emphasis added).

Vail’s understanding of the comprehensive nature of the Church as grounded in the bare essentials of Christian faith foreshadows the emphasis on simplicity and succinctness found in the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. Like the Quadrilateral, Vail’s conception of comprehensiveness eschews attempts at a full statement of Christian faith. Paradoxically, comprehension means minimalism if not reductionism.

It is important to note that Vail defends the idea of a Comprehensive Church by turning to the authority of Holy Scripture. In particular, Vail cites the Pauline idea of the Church as one body of Christ in I Corinthians, Ephesians, and Colossians. Indeed, Vail takes as his scriptural motto a verse from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: “‘There is one body’”(1879, 42; Vail’s emphasis). Insofar as Holy Scripture recognizes “but one Comprehensive Church,” Christians in the present day must do likewise (ibid., 43).

On the basis of these reflections and arguments, Vail proposes that, out of all the existing ecclesial bodies in the United States, the Protestant Episcopal Church offers the best hope for Christian unity. In other words, the Episcopal Church is the most adequate embodiment of the idea of a Comprehensive Church. For present purposes, it is important to note that Vail defends this thesis by appealing to the normative status of scripture, creeds, sacraments, and the episcopate in the Episcopal Church. “The basis of all religious doctrine and practice in the Protestant Episcopal Church,” writes Vail, “is Holy Scripture” (1879, 140). Likewise, Vail affirms the Apostles’ and the Nicene Creeds as foundational for the doctrine of the Comprehensive Church. While other aspects of belief and worship may be revised, Vail maintains that “the creeds can never be changed, because they lie at the foundation of the Church as a teacher of doctrine” and they testify to the faith of “the universal Church, from the days of the apostles to the present time” (ibid., 142). Furthermore, Vail argues that the doctrines enshrined in the classical creeds affirmed by the Protestant Episcopal Church are “strictly Scriptural and practical, rather than philosophical and abstract” (ibid., 147). With regard to the sacraments, Vail accents baptism and Eucharist as the two that are central to the Comprehensive Church. And with respect to the matter of ordained ministry, Vail affirms the three-fold order of bishops, priests, and deacons. Concerning the episcopate as a model of comprehensiveness, Vail is careful to note that, while they exercise the authority of overseers in the flock of Christ, “Bishops [in the Episcopal Church] are as much the subjects of ecclesiastical discipline as the clergy or the laity” (ibid., 128).

In the wake of the twentieth century, Vail’s argument that the Protestant Episcopal Church best embodies the traits of the Comprehensive Church that can unite all Christians into one ecclesiastical body seems, at best, to smack of untenable nineteenth-century optimism and naïve faith in the inevitability of progress. Indeed, his contention that all Christians should recognize it as their “bounden duty” to immediately unite themselves with the Episcopal Church sounds downright totalitarian in the aftermath of the evils done in the name of God and country during the twentieth-century (1879, 243; Vail’s emphasis). Nevertheless, Vail’s lifelong commitment to ecumenism suggests that, while his rhetoric and his arguments may have been overblown, he was a well-intentioned man.

The fruit of centuries of Christian thought about the essentials necessary for the Christian Church find practical culmination in the writings and work of William Reed Huntington (1838-1909). While Huntington was the rector of All Saints Church in Worcester, Massachusetts, he published The Church-Idea: An Essay Towards Unity (1870). In this work, Huntington laid the groundwork for the formulation of the Chicago Quadrilateral at the General Convention of 1886. To this day, The Church-Idea remains an outstanding American contribution to Anglican thought on ecclesiology and ecumenism.

Like Vail in 1841, Huntington opens The Church-Idea lamenting the divisions that separate Christians. He holds that “union is God’s work, and separation devil’s work” (1928, 2). As a foundation on which to propose a practical plan for Christian unity, Huntington proposes to explain the meaning of the Church-Idea. The Church-Idea, he writes,

… is this, that the Son of God came down from heaven to be the Saviour not only of men, but of man; to bring “good tidings of great joy” not only to every separate soul, but also to all souls collectively. He died, not only to save the scattered sheep, but to gather them that they might be scattered sheep no longer. … “The Gospel” ought to be regarded as the entire blessing resulting to the world from the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. In this aggregate of blessing, the interests both of the one and the many have a place (ibid., 3, 4; Huntington’s emphasis).

Huntington clearly believes that the Gospel is universal and comprehensive in scope, i.e., catholic. The community called together by this Gospel must, therefore, embody the intention of the Gospel to save “all souls collectively.” And this means that the Church on earth must form a visible unity.

In order to realize the intention of the Gospel, Huntington proposes an “Anglican basis for an ecumenical ‘Church of the Reconciliation’ in America” (Armentrout & Slocum 1999, 256). In doing this, Huntington claims to be providing an answer to the question of “what Anglicanism pure and simple is” (1928, 124). According to Huntington, “the absolutely essential features of the Anglican position” on the Church of Reconciliation in American entails four points (ibid.). They are:

1st. The Holy Scriptures as the Word of God.
2d. The Primitive Creeds as the Rule of Faith.
3d. The two Sacraments ordained by Christ himself.
4th. The Episcopate as the key-stone of Governmental Unity (1928, 125-126).

In good Anglican fashion, Huntington leaves the nature of the Bible’s inspiration open to interpretation, preferring instead to affirm that “Holy Scripture … is the treasure-house of God’s revealed truth” (ibid., 127). The primitive creeds, by which Huntington means the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, are necessary for rightly reading and interpreting Holy Scripture. “It is simply a trifling with words to say that the Scriptures are in themselves an all-sufficient creed” because the Scriptures are such “a vast field of research” and “as inexhaustible as Nature” (ibid., 127, 128). For this reason, the classical creeds serve as the rule of faith for reading scripture.

Like predecessors in the Anglican tradition, Huntington regards baptism and Eucharist as the two necessary sacraments of the Church. In contrast to the many other possible contenders for the title “sacrament,” baptism and Eucharist have uncontested roots in the apostolic age and in scripture. The conform, in other words, with the principle of antiquity. Consensus in this matter, Huntington suggests, makes baptism and Eucharist the sacramental basis for Christian unity. In addition, these sacraments embody the fundamental character of the Christian life. Huntington writes:

The Two Sacraments of Christ’s appointment image forth to the eye his two all-comprehensive sayings, “Come unto Me,” “Abide in Me.” The one is the Sacrament of Approach, the other the Sacrament of Continuance. Baptism answers to the grafting of the branch; Holy Communion to the influx of the nourishing juices that keep the graft alive (1928, 142-143).

Huntington notes that these two sacraments provide an essential and “constant safeguard” against reducing Christian faith to speculative theologizing (ibid., 143). Baptism and Eucharist serve as reminders that Christians live “in the body and on the earth,” and that Christian faith must take visible, material shape (ibid.).

Huntington argues that the episcopate as the keystone of governmental unity provides “an essential condition of oneness in the Church” (1928, 152). As a warrant for this claim, Huntington appeals to a principle of headship discernible in the orders of creation. From the constitution of families to nation-states to churches, headship provides the organizing principle. “Headship is God’s law,” argues Huntington, for “Double and triple-headed creatures are monsters that exist only in fiction, or, if born, are only born to die” (ibid.). “From its fountain in the bosom of the Holy Trinity,” the principle of headship “flows downward through all the ranges of created life” (ibid., 152-153). Grounded in the Trinitarian life of God, the principle of headship provides theological justification for hierarchical social organization because this principle is inscribed in the very orders of creation.[4] Based on this reasoning, every social institution requires embodiment in a central figurehead.

In addition to purported laws of nature, Huntington also defends the necessity of the episcopate by appealing to antiquity. In the Christian Church, the principle of headship has taken form in the episcopate since apostolic times. This gives the episcopate “a strong historical presumption in its favor” (1928, 156). Indeed, Huntington regards this presumption as so strong that he goes so far as to say that “Anglicanism stands or falls” by the episcopate (ibid., 157). Huntington is worth quoting at greater length on this point:

Indeed, … if the Episcopate have no more claim on our regard than any other form of ecclesiastical polity, then the sooner Anglicans in America shut their church-doors and burn their prayer-books, the better; for they are only adding, upon insufficient grounds, one more to the sectarian divisions under which the land groans. But if they have in the Episcopate that which links them by an actual historical connection to the Church of the primitive times, then ought they to thank God and take courage, and do all they can by the removal of misapprehensions and disabilities and needless partition walls of prejudice, to make their inheritance available for the enrichment of the whole scattered flock of Christ (ibid., 157-158).

Clearly, Huntington holds a high doctrine of the episcopate. Indeed, given his rhetoric on the issue, one wonders if the historic episcopate ranks higher in value and importance for Huntington than the other three articles of the Church-Idea.

Huntington’s four-fold explication of the Church-Idea was included in a report of the Commission on Christian Unity and adopted by the House of Bishops at the thirty-fifth General Convention meeting in Chicago in 1886. In its formulation of the Chicago Quadrilateral, the House of Bishops altered the language used by Huntington. Instead of “The Holy Scriptures as the Word of God,” the Chicago Quadrilateral reads: “The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the revealed Word of God” (Armentrout and Slocum 1994, 226). With regard to the creeds, the Chicago Quadrilateral replaces Huntington’s “The Primitive Creeds as the Rule of Faith” with “The Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian Faith” (ibid.). The House of Bishops also specifically name baptism and the Lord’s Supper as the two indispensable sacraments. And finally, Huntington’s description of the episcopate as the keystone of governmental unity is replaced with the language of the “Historic Episcopate” and the recognition that it must be “locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church” (ibid.). Interestingly, the formulation of the Quadrilateral by the Lambeth Conference of 1888 changes the language of the first two articles while retaining the language of the Chicago formulation in articles three and four. As J. Robert Wright notes, Huntington’s contribution to the Chicago and Lambeth formulations of the Quadrilateral was “deepened and developed” such that “whatever he had intended, was now superseded by what the bishops voted” (1988, 14).


In spite of diversity in historical setting, temperament, methods, and aims, this brief survey of Christian thought from the early Church Fathers through classical Anglicanism to the nineteenth century work of Maurice, Vail, and Huntington supports the thesis that the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral articulates principles of ecclesiology and ecumenism that lie deep in the Christian tradition. From an Anglican point of view, Holy Scripture, the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist, and the historic episcopate are necessary components of any valid Christian Church. Again and again, figures in the Anglican tradition turn to the principle of antiquity to provide a warrant for these four cornerstones of the Christian Church.

Obviously, not all Christians are prepared to accept these four components as the bottom line for defining the true Church and for engaging in ecumenical dialogue, especially as defined by Anglicans. In particular, the Anglican insistence on the historic episcopate as a necessary component of the true Church has proved a barrier to possible union with many Christian bodies. In spite of its problems, however, the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral succinctly articulates central aspects of catholic thinking about the nature of the Church. For this reason, it remains one of the most significant contributions of the Anglican tradition to the ecumenical cause.

[1] Lecture by The Very Rev. Dean Lytle on September 21, 2000 at The University of the South’s School of Theology in Sewanee, Tennessee.

[2] See, for example, William J. Wolf, “Maurice and Understanding of ‘Ecumenical’,” Anglican Theological Review 54/4 (October 1972): 273-290. See also Michelle Woodhouse-Hawkins, “Maurice, Huntington, and the Quadrilateral: An Exploration in Historical Theology,” in Quadrilateral at One Hundred: Essays on the Centenary of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral 1886/88 – 1986/88, edited by J. Robert Wright (Cincinatti: Forward Movement Publications, 1988), 61-78.

[3] New Testament scholar Luke Timothy Johnson makes this point with clarity when he writes: “The canon [of Scripture] and the church are correlative in this sense: Without the community regarding them as addressing it in an authoritative and normative way, these ancient writings would not be Scripture. On the other hand, without such a fixed frame of understanding, which mediates the identity of the community from age to age, there would not exist any historical community identifiable as the church in the first place. It is an expression of the church’s faith to regard these writings as prophetic for every age, and therefore as speaking God’s Word.” See Luke Timothy Johnson, Scripture and Discernment: Decision Making in the Church (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 31.

[4] Since the principle of headship is grounded in the Trinity, Huntington’s reasoning seems to imply a hierarchical ordering among the persons of the Trinity such that the Holy Spirit is subordinate to the Son who is, in turn, subordinate to the Father. If so, Huntington’s defense of the episcopate may be charged with a heresy first condemned by the Council of Constantinople in 381 C.E.: Subordinationism, or the view that the persons of the Trinity are not co-equal.

Armentrout, Don S. and Robert Boak Slocum. Documents of Witness: A History of the Episcopal Church 1782-1985. New York: Church Hymnal Corporation, 1994.

An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church: A User-Friendly Reference for Episcopalians. New York: Church Publishing Incorporated, no publication date.

Gibbs, Lee. The Middle Way: Voices of Anglicanism. Cincinnati, OH: Forward Movement Publications, 1991.

Hooker, Richard. The Works of that Learned and Judicious Divine Mr. Richard Hooker. Arranged by the Rev. John Keble. 4th Edition. Volume II. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1863.

Hooker, Richard. Ecclesiastical Polity: Selections. Edited by Arthur Pollard. Manchester, England: Carcanet Press, 1990.

Huntington, William Reed. The Church Idea: An Essay Towards Unity. Boston & New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1928.

Jewel, John. An Apology of the Church of England. Edited by J. E. Booty. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1963.

Maurice, Frederick Denison. The Kingdom of Christ; or Hints Respecting the Principles, Constitution, and Ordinances of the Catholic Church. New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1843.

Price, Charles P. “Whence, Whither, and What?: Reflections on the Hundredth Anniversary,” in Quadrilateral at One Hundred: Essays on the Centenary of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral 1886/88—1986/88. Edited by J. Robert Wright. Cincinatti, OH: Forward Movement Publications, 1988. Pages 79-97.

Vail, Thomas H. The Comprehensive Church; or, Christian Unity and Ecclesiastical Union in the Protestant Episcopal Church. New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1879.

Woodhouse-Hawkins, Michelle. “Maurice, Huntington, and the Quadrilateral: An Exploration in Historical Theology,” in Quadrilateral at One Hundred: Essays on the Centenary of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral 1886/88—1986/88. Edited by J. Robert Wright. Cincinatti, OH: Forward Movement Publications, 1988. Pages 61-78.

Wright, J. Robert. “Heritage and Vision: The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral,” in Quadrilateral at One Hundred: Essays on the Centenary of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral 1886/88—1986/88. Edited by J. Robert Wright. Cincinatti, OH: Forward Movement Publications, 1988. Pages 8-46.

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