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§ 82. American Revision of the Thirty-nine Articles, A.D. 1801.

William White, D.D. (first Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the diocese of Pennsylvania; d. 1836): Memoirs of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. New York, 1820; 3d ed. by De Costa, 1880.

William Stevens Perry, D.D. (Secretary of the House of Clerical and Lay Deputies of the General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States): A Hand-book of the General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church, giving its History and Constitution, 1785—1874. New York, 1874. The same: Journals of the General Convention, etc., 1785—1835. Claremont, N. H., 1874.

Also Samuel Wilberforce (late Bishop of Oxford): A History of the Protestant Episcopal Church in America (1844); Caswall: History of the American Church (2d ed. 1851); and Procter: A History of the Book of Common Prayer, pp. 162 sqq. (11th ed. 1874).

For the colonial history, comp. the Historical Collections relating to the American Colonial Church, ed. by Dr. Perry. Hartford, 1871 sqq. 3 vols. 4to.


The members of the Church of England in the American Colonies, from the first settlement of Virginia (1607) till after the War of the 651Revolution, belonged to the diocese of the Bishop of London, who never visited the country, and could exercise but an imperfect supervision. Several attempts were made, by the friends of the Church, to establish colonial bishoprics, but failed.

The separation from the crown of England necessitated an independent organization, which assumed the title of The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. The first steps towards such an organization were taken by a meeting of clergy and laity in New Brunswick, New Jersey, May 11, 1784, and by another and larger one, held in New York, Oct. 6 and 7, of the same year. The first General Convention, consisting of sixteen clerical and twenty-six lay deputies, assembled in Philadelphia, Sept. 27 and 28, 1785, Dr. White presiding, adopted a constitution and such changes in the Book of Common Prayer as were deemed necessary to conform it 'to the American Revolution and the Constitutions of the respective States,' and petitioned the English hierarchy to consecrate such bishops for the independent Church as may be elected by the separate dioceses.12511251   Shortly before the Convention, Bishop Seabury, of Connecticut, had received consecration at Aberdeen from three Bishops of Scotland (Nov. 14, 1784), but he did not attend the Convention, and was opposed from High-Church principles to the introduction of lay representation and the limitation of the power of the episcopate. The revised provisional Liturgy was rather hastily prepared and published, 1786. It is called the 'Proposed Book.'12521252   It is sometimes also called 'Bishop White's Prayer-Book,' who was the chairman of the committee of revision, Dr. William Smith, of Maryland, and Dr. Wharton, of Delaware, being the other members. Smith is made chiefly responsible for the changes by Perry, p. 23. The book was printed in Philadelphia, 1786, in London, 1789, and again (with omission of the amended Articles of Religion) in New York, Dec., 1873, for provisional use in the new Reformed Episcopal Church,' which has since adopted a new revision. It contains, besides many necessary ritual changes and improvements, Twenty Articles of Religion, based upon the Thirty-nine Articles, but differing widely from them, being a mutilation rather than an improvement.12531253   Given by Perry, Hand-book, pp. 34–39, from the original MSS. in the Convention archives. He calls the Proposed Book a 'hasty, crude, and unsatisfactory compilation, which failed utterly to establish itself in the American Church' (p. 42). The alterations and omissions were made in the interest of an unchurchly latitudinarianism which then prevailed. The Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed, which Art. VIII. of the English series acknowledges, were entirely omitted in Art. IV. of the new series; the Apostles' Creed was retained, but without the clause 'He descended into hell.'


The book failed to give general satisfaction at home or abroad. The English Archbishops demanded the restoration of the three Œcumenical Creeds in their integrity.12541254   See their letter in Perry, pp. 50–55.

The General Convention held at Wilmington, Del., Oct. 11, 1786, complied with this request so far as the Nicene Creed and the discretionary use of the clause of the descent in the Apostles' Creed were concerned.12551255   In the first edition of the new Prayer-Book, 1790, the objectionable clause was printed in italics, and put in parentheses. But the General Convention of 1792 left it discretionary to use it, or to omit it, or to substitute for it the words, 'He went into the place of departed spirits,' as being equivalent to the words in the Creed. The omission of the Athanasian Creed was adhered to,12561256   Bishop Seabury was very zealous for the Athanasian Creed; and in the Convention of 1789 the House of Bishops agreed to its permissory use, but the House of Deputies 'would not allow of the Creed in any shape.' Bishop White favored a compromise—viz., to leave it in the Prayer-Book as a doctrinal document, but not to read it in public worship. See his Memoirs, pp. 149, 150, and a letter of White, quoted by Perry, p. 76. and subsequently acquiesced in by the English Bishops. The obstacle of the oath of allegiance required in England having been removed by act of Parliament, the Rev. Drs. White, of Pennsylvania, and Provoost, of New York, received the long-sought 'Apostolical succession,' in the chapel of Lambeth Palace, Feb. 4, 1787. At one time this result seemed so doubtful that steps were taken to secure ordination, with a broken succession, from the Lutheran bishops of Denmark, and the consent of the Danish government had actually been obtained, when the difficulties in England were removed.

In the Special Convention of Philadelphia, June, 1799 (the General Convention having been prevented in the preceding year by an epidemic), a new revision of the Articles of Religion, reduced to seventeen, was considered, but not finally acted upon by the House of Deputies, and was printed as an Appendix to the Journal of that House.12571257   Perry, pp. 90–95. But it gave no satisfaction, and shared the same fate with the previous draft of twenty Articles.

Finally, the General Convention held at Trenton, New Jersey, Sept. 3–12, 1801, settled the question by adopting the Thirty-nine Articles in the form which they have since retained in the American Episcopal Church, and are incorporated in its editions of the Prayer-Book.12581258   See Vol. III. pp. 477 sqq., where they are given in full. The only doctrinal difference is the omission of the Athanasian Creed from 653Art. VIII.; the remaining changes are political, and adapted to the separation of Church and State. Otherwise even 'the obsolete diction' is retained. The following is the action of this Convention:12591259   Perry, pp. 99–101.

'Resolutions of the Bishops, the Clergy, and the Laity of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, in Convention, in the city of Trenton, the 12th day of September, in the year of our Lord 1801, respecting the Articles of Religion.

'The Articles of Religion are hereby ordered to be set forth with the following directions, to be observed in all future editions of the same; that is to say—

'The following to be the title, viz.:

'"Articles of Religion, as established by the Bishops, the Clergy, and the Laity of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, in Convention, on the 12th day of September, in the year of our Lord 1801."

'The Articles to stand as in the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England, with the following alterations and omissions, viz.:

'In the 8th Article, the word "three" in the title, and the words "three—Athanasius' creed" in the Article, to be omitted, and the Article to read thus:

'"Art. VIII. Of the Creeds.

'"The Nicene Creed, and that which is commonly called the Apostles' Creed, ought thoroughly to be received and believed, for they may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture."

'Under the title "Article 21," the following note to be inserted, namely,

'"The 21st of the former Articles is omitted, because it is partly of a local and civil nature, and is provided for, as to the remaining parts of it, in other Articles."

'The 35th Article to be inserted with the following note, namely,

'"This Article is received in this Church, so far as it declares the Books of Homilies to be an explication of Christian doctrine, and instructive in piety and morals. But all references to the constitution and laws of England are considered as inapplicable to the circumstances of this Church: which also suspends the order for the reading of said homilies in churches until a revision of them may conveniently be made, for the clearing of them, as well from obsolete words and phrases, as from the local references."

'The 36th Article, entitled "Of Consecration of Bishops and Ministers," to read thus:

'"The Book of Consecration of Bishops, and ordering of Priests and Deacons, as set forth by the General Convention of this Church in 1792, doth contain all things necessary to such consecration and ordering: neither hath it any thing that, of itself, is superstitious and ungodly. And, therefore, whosoever are consecrated or ordered according to said form, we decree all such to be rightly, orderly, and lawfully consecrated and ordered."

'The 37th Article to be omitted, and the following substituted in its place:

'"Art. XXXVII. Of the Power of the Civil Magistrate.

'"The power of the civil magistrate extendeth to all men, as well Clergy as Laity, in all things temporal; but hath no authority in things purely spiritual. And we hold it to be the duty of all men who are professors of the gospel, to pay respectful obedience to the civil authority, regularly and legitimately constituted."12601260   This Art. appears as the last in the XVII. Articles of 1799.

'Adopted by the House of Bishops.

WILLIAM WHITE, D.D., Presiding Bishop.

'Adopted by the House of Clerical and Lay Deputies.

ABRAHAM BEACH, D.D., President.


On the nature and aim of this action, Bishop White remarks:12611261   Memoirs, p. 33.

'The object kept in view, in all the consultations held, and the determinations formed, was the perpetuating of the Episcopal Church, on the ground of the general principles which she had inherited from the Church of England; and of not departing from them, except so far as either local circumstances required, or some very important cause rendered proper. To those acquainted with the system of the Church of England, it must be evident that the object here stated was accomplished on the ratification of the Articles.'

The only change in the Prayer-Book which has a doctrinal bearing, besides the omission of the Athanasian Creed, is the insertion of the Prayer of Oblation and Invocation from the Scotch (and the First Edwardine) Prayer-Book, through the influence of Bishop Seabury, who had been consecrated in the Scotch Episcopal Church.

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