Samuel Seabury on the Eucharist  

Posted by Joe Rawls

The Episcopal Church is "episcopal" due in large part to the initiative of Samuel Seabury (1729-1796).  A rather unlike candidate for the first bishop of an independent Anglican church in the United States, Seabury was not only a committed Loyalist during the American Revolutionary war, but he also served as the chaplain of a Loyalist regiment under British command in New York City.  After the American victory he made his peace with the new regime and served a parish in Connecticut. 

There had never been an Anglican bishop in any of the colonies prior to the war.  The Church of England parishes were administered, often rather loosely, by the Bishop of London.  With independence, this already-bad situation was completely untenable.  A group of Connecticut rectors met and nominated Seabury as their bishop.  He agreed to travel to England to seek episcopal consecration.

Despite his impeccable Loyalist credentials, he was unable to be consecrated in England.  The hands of the English bishops were tied because they were forbidden by law to consecrate anyone who could not swear allegiance to the king.  As a foreign citizen, Seabury was incapable of doing this.  He then traveled to Scotland, where he had better luck with the Scottish Episcopal Church.  This church had separated from the Church of England about 100 years earlier when its bishops refused to swear allegiance to William and Mary after the deposition of James II.  The Scottish Episcopal Church, small, marginalized, and largely despised by the Scottish mainstream, was nonetheless free of government control and was strongly "Catholic" in its sacramental theology and ecclesiology.  It agreed to Seabury's consecration if he would try to influence the development of an American prayer book so that it would be similar to the Scottish book (itself largely unchanged from the original 1549 Book of Common Prayer).

And so, on November 14, 1784, Seabury was consecrated, in a room over a bank in Aberdeen, by the Bishop of Aberdeen, the Bishop Coadjutor of Aberdeen, and the Bishop of Moray, Ross, and Caithness.  Upon his return to America he was in fact able to influence the development of the first American prayer book in a Scottish direction (among other things, the Eucharistic prayer had an epiclesis, or invocation of the Holy Spirit on the bread and wine, which was lacking in the 1662 book).  Seabury's high-church tendencies are further evident in the quote below taken from his essay An Earnest Persuasive to Frequent Communion.  I am indebted for this to the Anglican Centrist site. 


The general practice in this country is to have monthly Communions, and I bless God the Holy Ordinance is so often administered.  Yet 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 it a part of every Sunday's solemnity.  That it was the principal part of the daily worship of the primitive Christians all the early accounts inform us.  And it seems probable from the Acts of the Apostles that the Christians came together in their religious meetings chiefly for its celebration (Acts 2:  42, 46; 20:  7).  And the ancient writers generally interpret the petition in our Lord's prayer, "Give us this day", or day by day, "our daily bread", of the spiritual food in the Holy Eucharist.  Why daily nourishment should not be as necessary to our souls as to our bodies no good reason can be given.

If the Holy Communion was steadily administered whenever there is an Epistle and Gospel appointed, which seems to have been the original intention--or was it on every Sunday--I cannot help thinking that it would revive the esteem and reverence Christians once had for it, and would show its good effects in their lives and conversations.  I hope the time will come when this pious and Christian practice may be renewed.  And whenever it shall please God to inspire the hearts of Communicants of any congregation with a wish to have it renewed, I flatter myself they will find a ready disposition in their minister to forward their pious desire.

In the meantime, let me beseech you to make good use of the opportunities you have; and let nothing but real necessity keep you from the heavenly banquet when you have it in your power to partake of it.


This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at Wednesday, November 14, 2012 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


Hey Joe,

I was reading an entry of your blog where it mentions that communion is given only once a month in your parish ? I belong to St. Thomas the Apostle in Hollywood where Holy Communion is ministered in high mass every Sunday  When you are around you should visit us. We are an Episcopal church within the Anglo-Catholic tradition. By the way your contact e-mail is not working properly.


December 24, 2012 at 12:58 PM

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