Posted by: mattcolvin | December 28, 2011

The REC’s Historic View of Episcopacy

The founding bishop of the Reformed Episcopal Church, Bp. Cummins, wrote in January 1874, “I contend that the Episcopate is not of apostolic origin; that the Bishop is only primus inter pares, and not in any way superior in order to the Presbyter. We are acting on this principle. We set apart a Bishop to his work by a joint laying on of hands of a Bishop and the presbyters. I act as a Bishop, not claiming a jure divino right, or to be in any Apostolic Succession, but only as one chosen of his brethren to have the oversight. If others look upon me as retaining the succession, that does not commit us to their understanding.” (From by Annie Darling Price, p. 150)

This fairly well illuminates the REC’s Declaration of Principles (1873) when it says that “This Church recognizes and adheres to Episcopacy, not as of Divine right, but as a very ancient and desirable form of Church polity.”

Some have tried to say that by claiming that Episcopacy is “an ancient and desirable form of polity,” the Declaration thereby implies that other forms of polity are “modern and undesirable.” This is false, not only because it cannot be deduced from the language of the statement, which uses of the indefinite pronoun “a” (not “the”), but also because of Bp. Cummins’ own views about the origins of episcopacy in history, which were also common Anglican coin in his day. Consider also W. H. Griffith Thomas, The Principles of Theology, p. 329:

It is well known that Cranmer, the author of the first sentence and nearly the whole of [Aricle XXIII], expressly maintained that Presbyters and Bishops were originally identical, and that the development that made them distinct and gave Bishops rule over Presbyters was of human origin…It is well known that Cranmer endeavoured to effect a union with the non-episcopal Reformers, 1548-1552, and the Articles on the Church and Ministry are a standing testimony to his view.

There is appended a footnote, which reads thus:

In 1540 Henry VIII submitted to Commissioners appointed to draw up a statement of Christian Doctrine seventeen questions, of which the tenth was Whether Bishops or Priests were first; and if the Priests were first then the Priest made the Bishop. Answers came from both parties on the Commission, Cranmer’s being that “the Bishops and Priests were at one time and were not two things, but were both one office in the time of Christ’s religion.”


  1. Matt, I guess you know Cummins was a close associate of Edward Cridge who started the Church of Our Lord here in Victoria. As a matter of fact, when it was Cridge, not Cummins, who took the charter to England to join the denomination, which may have been the Free Churches of England, or something like that. It’s been a while since I read into this. I got involved with the Cridge Centre for the Family here and found out I am related by marriage to the Cridges. It’s a long story….

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