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Yankee Bishops

Apostles in the New Republic, 1783 to 1873


Charles Henery

The office of bishop in the Episcopal Church in the United States has long begged attention from historians. Yankee Bishops: Apostles in the New Republic, 1783 to 1873 is the first collective examination of the American episcopate and offers critical insight into the theory and practice of episcopal ministry in these formative years. In this period, one hundred men were elected and consecrated to the episcopal order and exercised oversight. These bishops firmly believed their office to mirror the primitive pattern of apostolic ministry. How this primitive ideal of episcopacy was understood and lived out in the new republic is the main focus of this study. Yankee Bishops is also the first book to scrutinize and analyze as a body the sermons preached at episcopal consecrations. These valuable texts are important for the image and role of the bishop they propagate and the theology of episcopacy expounded. The final portrait that emerges of the bishop in these years is chiefly that of a sacramental and missionary figure to whom the pastoral staff came to be bestowed as a fitting symbol of office. These bishops were truly apostolic pioneers who carved out a new, vigorous model of ministry in the Anglican Communion. Yankee Bishops will be a primary source in Anglican and ecumenical studies and of general interest to the reader of American religious and social history.
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Chapter 4: Spiritual Father


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American episcopacy, as established after the Revolution, was at once new and old. For the first time since the reign of Constantine in the fourth century, the office of bishop was strictly a spiritual office, with the bishop solely a servant of the church and not an officer of the state. In addition, the American system provided for the popular election of a bishop by both clergy and laity for the first time since the Norman conquest of England in l066.1

These innovations conformed to the social and political realities of the American scene. Yet they were seen as much more than the accommodation of the church to the circumstances of the time. They were viewed in fact as the recovery of the primitive pattern of episcopacy. Indeed, when coupled with this notion of “primitivism” that has already been discussed, they were critically formative of the dominant theological understanding of episcopacy that influenced the American church in this period. The English press made special reference to this in reporting upon the consecrations of William White and Samuel Provoost in l787. “These new Right Reverends will, in the American device,” commented the London Herald, “restore the primitive fathers, and distinguish themselves by stripes.” Still other London newspapers observed: “Episcopacy is admitted in America, but it is simplified according to the original intention as much as possible.”2

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