The brief note below is from the Revd. Dr. Diarmaid MacCulloch, Kt. MacCulloch is Professor of the History of the Church, and Fellow of St. Cross College, in the University of Oxford, as well as a Patron of the No Anglican Covenant Coalition. The article referred to is “The Anglican Covenant and the Experience of The Scottish Episcopal Church: Rewriting History for Expediency’s Sake.” Professor MacCulloch’s summary of this paper communicates the Ven. M. Edward Simonton’s essential points for those who may not have time to read the full paper.
I would like to recommend most highly this historical article by the Ven. Edward Simonton, Archdeacon of Saint Andrews in the Diocese of Montreal. It is a marvelously clear, learned and well-informed introduction to the history and significance of the Episcopal Church of Scotland, which reveals just how shoddy and ill-informed are the historical arguments which have been used to promote the introduction of a so-called ‘Anglican Covenant’. Simonton guides his reader through the history of a Church in Scotland which is a complete contrast to that of the Church of England, yet which is just as ancient in its episcopate. This is particularly important because one of the planks of the ‘Covenant’ is that the Anglican identity, on which its attempt at universal discipline is based, looks to the Thirty-Nine Articles and the 1662 Prayer Book. This is simply not so in the case of the Scottish Episcopal Church, which one has to remember was up to 1707 a Church in an independent kingdom, Scotland.
The Scottish story starts with a completely different Reformation to that of England, although it was also a Reformation which preserved bishops. They were ejected from church government in 1638 as the result of – guess what – a Covenant. They were brought back in 1661, but the established status of their Church was removed in 1689 because they were too loyal to the Stuart dynasty to swear an oath of loyalty to the King and Queen of the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688, William and Mary. Henceforth, the Episcopal Church faithful to its bishops was to fight against government repression, a repression frequently tacitly abetted by the bishops of the Church of England. New bishops were at first consecrated with the consent of the exiled Stuarts and with the help of bishops who had similarly left the Church of England on grounds of conscience, the ‘Non-Jurors’. Gradually some very dark years of repression lifted as the Stuart cause died, but part of the end of repression was the compulsion to subscribe to the English 39 Articles in 1792, the first time that the Scottish Episcopalians had had anything to do with the Articles. The 39 Articles were imposed by a foreign conqueror as a way of subjecting an independent Church body which was then helpless and had no choice but to accept. This requirement for subscription was only abolished in 1977, by then a historic relic. Scottish Episcopal clergy were not allowed to serve in the Church of England until 1864. Meanwhile, in 1784, it was to the Episcopal Church of Scotland that the loyal Episcopalians in the new United States turned for consecration of bishops, because the Church of England bishops refused to help them.
Likewise the use of the 1662 Prayer Book or its Ordinal historically did not apply in Scotland; the Episcopal Church had and has its own Prayer Book, first created by Scottish bishops in 1637 with an eye to the very first English Prayer Book of 1549, and it has to be said that its creation was a major reason why many Scots decided that bishops must go in 1638. The 1662 BCP was imposed on Scottish Episcopalians in the years of repression in the eighteenth century, simply because in their poverty and suspect political state, they were not able to get their 1637 book printed in large numbers.
It is therefore historically dishonest to claim that the 39 Articles, the 1662 Prayer Book and its Ordinal are the basis of Anglican unity. I could say more about the Church of Ireland and its unique historical inheritance, but Archdeacon Simonton’s splendid article is enough to prove that our Anglican historical formularies are much more splendidly varied in their origins than the proponents of the proposed ‘Covenant’ would like to pretend. Perhaps they just don’t know enough Church History.