Protestant Episcopal Church, an ecclesiastical body in the United States which derives its origin from the church of England. Previous to the American revolution members of the church of England were constantly settling in all parts of the colonies. In Maryland especially they were very numerous, and in 1692 they seem to have constituted a majority of the population sufficiently large to establish their religion as the religion of the colony. In accordance with the prevailing views in the mother church, they held to the necessity of the episcopal office in order to give validity to their ecclesiastical functions. But no bishop was provided for them until after the peace of 1783. Up to that time the Episcopal church in this country was under the oversight of the bishop of London, and American candidates for the ministry were under the necessity of crossing the Atlantic to obtain orders. Efforts had indeed been several times made in the old country to secure an episcopate in the colonies; but these efforts were always defeated by a twofold influence, one growing out of political complications and animosities, and another a jealousy of episcopacy as associated with lordly titles and vast incomes.
It is also affirmed that, especially in New England, a fear that if the colonial dependence of our country on the crown of England should be much longer perpetuated, the establishment of an episcopate like that in England would be inevitable, contributed much to the zeal which characterized the struggle for American independence. In this state of things, as was natural, when the war had actually broken out, some of the church of England people, and more especially those of the northern states, were opposed to it, and became what were called tories; while others, and particularly those in the southern states, heartily espoused the cause. Washington himself was a church of England man before the revolution, and after the treaty of peace he remained and died in the communion of the Protestant Episcopal church. Mr. Du-che, the first chaplain to congress, was a church of England clergyman; and Bishop White of Pennsylvania, the first presiding bishop, was from the start an ardent friend of American independence.
As early as August, 1782, a plan had been proposed for a union and organization of "the church of England people " into an independent branch of the church of Christ. No organization, however, was completed till September, 1785; but before this the Episcopalians of Connecticut elected the Rev. Samuel Seabury, D. D., to be their bishop. Dr. Seabury, in consequence of some political obstacle to his getting ordination in England, was consecrated at Aberdeen, Nov. 14, 1784, by three Scottish bishops, Robert Kilgour, Arthur Petrie, and John Skinner. The general convention which met in 1785 made application to the English church for the consecration of bishops for the American church, in order to perpetuate the succession in the Anglican line. For this office Dr. William White of Pennsylvania and Dr. Samuel Provoost of New York had been designated and elected, each respectively by the parishes in the states to which they belonged. They were consecrated in the Lambeth palace chapel, Feb. 4, 1787; and on Sept. 19, 1790, James Madison of Virginia was in like manner consecrated for the American church in Virginia. In 1789 the general convention met, consisting of the then bishops and clerical and lay delegates from each of the states in which any diocesan organization had been effected.
At this meeting a constitution and canons for the organization and government of the church as a branch of the catholic church of Christ were adopted. The English prayer book, as revised and adapted to the altered political circumstances of the country, was set forth to be used in all the congregations after Oct. 1,1790, and it remains unchanged to the present day. In the alterations thus made in the English formularies, it is declared that "this church is far from intending to depart from the church of England in any essential point of doctrine, discipline, or worship, or further than local circumstances require." And it has been held by some, though by no means a majority, that in consequence of this declaration in the preface to the American prayer book, as well as on general principles, the Protestant Episcopal church in the United States retains all the common and canon law of the English church, except in so far as "if may have been deemed inapplicable by its local circumstances," referred to in the preface, or modified or repealed by express legislation.
The Protestant Episcopal church in the United States retains from the church of England the Apostles' and Nicene creeds, the XXXIX. articles, with a slight modification in reference to the connection of the civil government with the church, the catechism, the baptismal offices, and the ordinal. But for the communion office it has rather followed the Scotch than the English church in placing a prayer of consecration and invocation of the Holy Ghost upon the consecrated elements before the administration of them to the communicants, and has even added to the Scottish service a few words making still more unambiguous the eucharistical character of the sacrament. The American church has also stricken out from its form for visiting the sick the formula for private absolution; and in the exhortation preceding the administration of the holy communion, it has omitted the direct reference to and advice in favor of private confession to the priest, and absolution from him. In this revision of the offices Bishops Seabury and White were chiefly instrumental, and Bishop White has left his testimony to the harmony and agreement of views and feelings with which they cooperated in the performance of this task.
In regard to the ministry, the theory usually held in the Protestant Episcopal church, like that in the English church, is, that in order to be a valid branch of the church of Christ it must have the Holy Scriptures and the ancient catholic creeds, and the ministry in an unbroken line of succession from the apostles, and in the exercise of lawful jurisdiction; that the Christians of any nation with these conditions constitute a national branch of the church of Christ, totally independent of the jurisdiction and authority of any foreign church or bishop, subject only under Christ to the authority of the universal church in general council assembled; and that as such they have jurisdiction over all their members, and authority in matters of faith to interpret and decide, and in matters of worship and discipline to legislate and ordain such rites and ceremonies as may seem most conducive to edification and godliness, provided they be not contrary to the Holy Scriptures. The Scriptures and the two ancient creeds, as already said, the Protestant Episcopal church has; the ministry also it has obtained, as shown above, from the English church, and preserves in accordance with the ecclesiastical canons and usages which have prevailed from the days of the apostles.
Its right to lawful jurisdiction must stand on circumstances and facts peculiarly its own, and found in its history and condition. In the first place it was planted by members of the English church, and in what was then, and continued to be until the American colonies became an independent national sovereignty, a part of the English dominions. The settlers of Jamestown came, in the language of their charter, to "discover and to prosecute effectually the full possession of all such heathen lands as were not actually possessed by any Christian prince or people," and "to establish there both the dominion of the British crown and the jurisdiction of the English church, provided always that the statutes devised should be, as near as conveniently might, agreeable to the laws and policy of England, and hot against the true Christian faith, as professed in the church of England." They remained a part of the English church so long as the colonies remained a part of the English dominions and dependencies. Holding with the English church that episcopal ordination is necessary to valid jurisdiction and the due administration of the sacraments, the Protestant Episcopal church has been compelled to decline communion with the various Protestant denominations in the country, as none of them have what she regards as a valid episcopate.
She does, however, acknowledge the validity of the orders conferred in the Roman Catholic church, but disregards the claim set up by that church to jurisdiction within the United States. This would follow from the fact of her first institution in this country, being planted here not only before the Roman Catholics had made a permanent settlement, but by the English church, and in territory which it is claimed at that time belonged to its jurisdiction. In this state of facts the Protestant Episcopal church consistently regards the Roman Catholic clergy as schismatics, according to the ancient canons, just as is the case in England, where the pope has intruded bishops and priests within the lawful jurisdiction of the established church of the land. - The dioceses of the Protestant Episcopal church formerly corresponded in number and extent with the states. The division of the state dioceses began in 1835, when western New York was made a separate diocese. Since then the dioceses of Pittsburgh (1865), Albany (1868), Central New York (1868), Easton, Md. (1868), Long Island (1868), and Central Pennsylvania (1871) have been established; so that in 1873 the state of New York numbered five, Pennsylvania three, and Maryland two dioceses.
The institution of provincial synods has been created for the common interests of the dioceses of one state. The church has missions in Africa, China, Japan, Greece, and Hayti. In 1873 it had 49 organized dioceses, two of which, western Africa and China and Japan, were outside of the United States, and five were missionary dioceses in the territories. In each diocese there is an organized convention, consisting of bishop, clergy, and lay delegates chosen by the people. These conventions meet annually, and provide for all the details of local and specific legislation. The dioceses are organized into a general convention, which meets once in three years. It consists of all the bishops in the actual exercise of episcopal jurisdiction, and of clerical and lay delegates, four of each order chosen from each diocese by its convention. They sit in two houses, and not only is the concurrence of both houses necessary for the passage of any canon or law of the church, but also a concurrence in case it is asked of each of the three orders, bishops, priests, and laity, in order that any measure may become a law.
The number of priests and deacons in 1873 was 2,938; parishes, 2,700; communicants, about 248,000. The income of the principal religious societies during the year 1872 was as follows: domestic committee of missions, $168,-252; foreign committee, $110,732; American church missionary society, $53,938; evangelical education society, $40,008; Protestant Episcopal society for the promotion of evangelical knowledge, $43,088; the society for the increase of the ministry, $28,923. The contributions in money for church objects, over and above what was expended in erecting and repairing church edifices and in the support of the parochial clergy, amounted in 1872 to $6,187,250 89. This sum was devoted mainly to the support of the poor, and in sustaining missions, diocesan, domestic, and foreign. In consequence of its total disconnection from the state and political complications, the Protestant Episcopal church has had a degree of unity, harmony, and peace unknown to the mother church in England; and its increase by a comparison of statistics shows a gain in numbers of 20 or 30 per cent. above the increase in the population of the country since the time of its organization.