Revisiting the Lambeth Quadrilateral as a mark of Anglicanism

I had occasion this week to consult Quadrilateral at One Hundred, edited by J. Robert Wright, published in 1988 by the Anglican Theological Review by way of Forward Movement Publications.

Former Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning in the first essay, the core of a sermon, titled,
Dawn of the Third Millennium, wrote, “People are hindered from accepting the Christian message by factionalism expressed between the churches and within them. This is the familiar temptation to dismiss people with whom we disagree and by so doing view them as hostile strangers rather than as friends who, in trying to work out solutions to common problems, may disagree.” (p.3)

Given the factionalism of these days both within the Episcopal Church and between some factions here and friends and allies elsewhere in the Anglican world, it seemed to me that we might revisit the Lambeth Quadrilateral as an instrument of unity – one that might hold with greater certainty than the proposal for an Anglican Covenant.

The question is would a revisited Lambeth Quadrilateral serve the purpose interior to the Churches in the Anglican Communion that it initially was meant to serve between Anglican Churches and other churches?
Here then is a stab at a “revisiting” and a suggestion as to how it might be used as an affirmation by member Churches of the Anglican Communion.

The Proposals:

1. Rewrite the fourth element of the Lambeth Quadrilateral to read as follows: (d) The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration and ecclesial responsibilities to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the Unity of His Church and exercising exclusive jurisdiction or charge except insofar as ecumenical circumstances of reunion make overlapping jurisdictions necessary in pursuit of that unity.

2. Use the revised Lambeth Quadrilateral as the basis for inclusion in the Anglican Communion, restating the 1930 Lambeth definition of the Anglican Communion to read: The Anglican Communion is a Fellowship within the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, of those duly constituted Dioceses, Provinces, and regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer and as explicated and affirmed in the Lambeth Quadrilateral.

The Problem:

The Anglican Covenant has become a quagmire of faith statements, historical simplification and beginning codification of international Anglican canonical law. The Windsor Process has become impossible as the Document has become an idol. The vision of a unified Anglican Communion speaking with one voice and having a “mind of the Communion” on any matter turns out to be false.

Why all these failures? Because Anglicans have been blind to the fact that the churches (meaning the Provinces, National and Regional Churches) in the Anglican Communion are in fact autonomous. It is true for the Province of Nigeria, for the Church of England, The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, and most other churches. I would hazard a guess that even those churches that might hold the Archbishop as a final court of appeal in one or another area still hold the right to change their Constitution and Canons as they will, without further outside reference. I would suggest that even the Province of the Southern Cone, which stipulates some connections could sever those connections.

Those who believe the Preamble to the Episcopal Church Constitution is proscriptive rather than descriptive still recognize that we could in fact remove the
Preamble or re-write it on the action of two General Conventions, thereby making it clearly descriptive, since changing it is not a matter outside the control of General Convention. (I am by the way in favor of either amending the Preamble to make it clearly a matter of description whose permanence is not assumed, or removing the Preamble’s reference to the Anglican Communion all together. This is not because I am opposed to being in the Anglican Communion, far from it. It is because I believe we need to be clear as to what the Anglican Communion is.

What the Anglican Communion is:

What is the Anglican Communion? It is a peculiar form of ecumenical relationship, in which the member churches in relation are called to community by virtue of the history of their churches with special reference to the Church of England, and in particular the history of their Episcopal orders. No Church in the Anglican Communion, or the Anglican Communion itself, makes claim to be the church.

Mistakenly there have been repeated efforts to claim that the Anglican Communion constitutes something called “The Anglican Church.”
The failures of the past twenty years regarding the efforts to find a common Church discipline or doctrines beyond our being informed by the Creeds, the ancient sacraments and the Holy Scriptures, good for the whole of the Communion are related to the refusal to recognize that Anglicans do not constitute a Church, nor do our member churches claim to be the church. Rather we are a fellowship of churches.

The effort to develop such a rule or common discipline and doctrine is doomed to failure unless those proposing such a rule are at the same time demanding the development of a single entity, a world-wide Anglican Church.
Such a demand is not part of
the overt agenda of those working for a Covenant or wishing to impose sanctions on member bishops or churches who act in ways that have not been admitted for trial use or the process called “reception.” But it is increasingly clear that such an agenda is operant among some in the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury and among several other Primates and bishops. It is unclear just to what extent the various proponents of an Anglican Church are in concert, and indeed there is some struggle concerning the focus of unity – whether it is to be the Archbishop of Canterbury or a synod of like minded Primates.

The central role of the Lambeth Quadrilateral:

I suggest that the future of Anglicanism lies with our taking seriously, within our own churches, the Lambeth Quadrilateral, and not in some more extensive Anglican Covenant or a reversion to the 39 Articles and the 1662 BCP. We should do so as an incarnation sign of the sort of reunion we hope for with other churches, and as a sign that we do not see ourselves as an Anglican patriarchy.
What is needed is not the identifying marks of being part of the Anglican Communion as a world wide Church, but identifying marks of a fellowship of churches in full communion with one another.

The Lambeth Quadrilateral gave pointers toward an ecumenical future, in which union could be a matter of agreed on understandings, quite regardless of organic union or spiritual proximity to Lambeth Palace. It seems to me a succinct and useful basis for continuing the Anglican Communion itself.

The four elements of the Lambeth Quadrilateral (Lambeth version) are as follows:

(a) The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as “containing all things necessary to salvation,” and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.

(b) The Apostles’ Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.

(c) The two Sacraments ordained by Christ Himself — Baptism and the Supper of the Lord— ministered with unfailing use of Christ’s
words of Institution, and of the elements ordained by Him.

(d) The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the Unity of His Church.

I am proposing a revision of the proposition concerning the Historic Episcopate, as stated in the beginning of this essay:
(d) The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration and ecclesial responsibilities to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the Unity of His Church and exercising exclusive jurisdiction or charge except insofar as ecumenical circumstances of reunion make overlapping jurisdictions necessary in pursuit of that unity.

Rationale for the Change

First, a note: The Quadrilateral is not mentioned as a marker of Anglicanism by GAFCON Primates and US realignment groups. They speak of the Creeds, The Thirty-Nine Articles and the Book of Common Prayer and Ordinal of 1662. There is of course congruity between the two. The difference is that the GAFCON Primates list is specific in liturgical heritage and ordination mandates and, in the 39 Articles, is much more far reaching in its commitment to specifics of theological and ecclesial doctrine than is the Quadrilateral. Yet it would seem that the two specifically Anglican markers of the 1662 BCP and the Thirty-nine Articles might stand as historical markers rather than doctrinal or ecclesial determinants. I believe there is a way to say “yes” to the formative roles of the
1662 BCP and the Thirty-nine Articles that gives them their honored place without making them a stumbling block for churches that never had the 1662 Book or the imposition of the Thirty-nine articles as part of their history. That of course would require a bit of charity on all sides.

The Markers:

The first three markers – Scripture, Creed and Sacraments – are so widely understood as universal markers that there is little controversy concerning their presence in the Quadrilateral. Not so for the fourth – the historic episcopate.

Within the AC we have not dealt with what it means for episcopacy to be “locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and people…” Anglican Communion member churches vary widely in their understanding of the role of the bishop, how bishops are elected, their relation to the synod of the church in which they were ordained, the moral and physical criteria for election, the context in which they exercise authority both individually and collectively, and so on.

Outside the AC we have not dealt with the reality of existing oversight by agents of another ecclesial system and the territorial specifics of episcopacy in the Anglican Communion. What, for example, are we to do with the possibility of overlapping jurisdictions of bishops of different groups working in the same territorial?

The first change suggested change, “and ecclesial responsibilities” is meant to reflect the fact that the episcopate in various of the Anglican Churches, as well as in other churches willing to enter into full communion with Anglican Churches, differ not only in the “methods of administration” – that is how they are chosen, what relationships they have with the synod of bishops of the Church in which they are ordained, matters of conformity, etc – but also in
the responsibilities bishops have in the synod of their Church. Some bishops exercise authority and have responsibilities that are not shared by others.

The second change suggested, “and exercising exclusive jurisdiction or charge except insofar as ecumenical circumstances of reunion make overlapping jurisdictions necessary in pursuit of that unity” concerns several problems. At the moment there is nothing in the Lambeth Quadrilateral about the jurisdictions of members of the episcopate. “Exclusive jurisdiction or charge” covers that.

Effectively every bishop is ordained to a specific ministry: Ordination may be universal, the ministry is specific. Diocesan bishops have territorial jurisdiction, the variety of assisting bishops have particular charges. The exception is “ecumenical circumstances of reunion” where, for example in the Philippines there are bishops both of the Philippine Independent Church and Episcopal Church in the Philippines with overlapping jurisdictions. What makes that work is that there is a concordat between the two churches and an understanding that they at the moment are bishops with different “charges” and the work is cooperative and uncontested. It is an occasion of ecumenical fellowship.

Final Remarks:

In what way would making the Lambeth Quadrilateral central to our common understanding of who we are as Anglicans be useful in the current controversies in the Anglican Communion?

I must begin by saying that I do not believe the Anglican Covenant idea will solve anything not already open for resolution by other means. GAFCON is separatist, as are the workings of various Provinces in the Episcopal Church and the Common Cause Partnership. The Windsor compliant dioceses and the Communion
Partners are making the claim that whatever the workings of the Episcopal Church they as dioceses are willing to forgo the inclusion of gay and lesbian persons in the sacramental life of the church beyond baptism and Eucharist in order to participate fully in communion with other Churches. The possibility that Canterbury will consider accepting diocesan compliance rather than provincial recasts the internal struggle in the Episcopal Church as a division point in the Anglican Communion. Some TEC Dioceses would then be part of an inner circle of the Anglican Communion and others on a second circle, further from the core Anglican family. All of this is a mess and likely to become a greater mess.

The Lambeth Quadrilateral (particularly in a revision such as the one I suggest) would serve as a realistic tool for determining "like-mindedness" such that churches could then become more porous and move towards interchangeability of clergy, sharing of sacraments, and begin the process of overcoming the divisions of the past. Specifically within the community of churches related historically to the Church of England it would provide an ecumenical context (remembering that these are all autonomous churches) for the fellowship that constitutes the Anglican Communion.

It would not end the conflict we have today between bishops or churches that disagree about particular actions taken by one or another church. It would end the argument that breaking or not breaking relations over those actions does not have anything to do with being genuinely Anglican. It would mean the end of the "orthodox" Anglican argument - any church fulfilling the criteria of the Quadrilateral and in communion with the See of Canterbury would be Anglican. It would mean that leaving the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Church of Canada or any other Anglican church to form another church is just that - leaving.

The revision of the fourth element in the Quadrilateral to include the stipulation that the historic episcopate includes the commitment to unique and autonomous jurisdictions would preclude overlapping jurisdictions without joint agreement. Such agreements might be possible (see the "flying bishops" arrangements) but unilateral establishment of alternative jurisdictions would place those so acting outside the fellowship envisioned by the Quadrilateral.

The Quadrilateral has become something of a touchstone in ecumenical relations, but it also has its use within Anglican Churches. It is now included in the "Historical Documents" section of the Episcopal Church Book of Common Prayer. And, as the photo to the right indicates, it is in an abbreviated and slightly modified form inscribed in the Great Cathedra of the Washington Cathedral with the words: Holy Scripture, Apostolic Creed, Holy Sacrament, Apostolic Order.


  1. Question of typographical interest - what is the source and date of the Quadrilateral diagram you reproduce?

  2. The diagram is the center of the cover of the book. Published iin 1988 by Forward Movement Publications.

  3. Great post, Mark.

    For me, "The Quad" IS Anglicanism. God bless it! :-)

  4. The typeface is so specifically early-mid Victorian that I wondered if the whole diagram was from a publication of the period.

  5. Mark+,

    Fascinating that you revisit the Quadrilateral at this time. I'm in the throes of writing a doctoral thesis that, in part, argues that the Quadrilateral (and the rest of William Reed Huntington's work on unity) was part of an Episcopal vision of a national church, strong and broad enough to take on the challenges of the Gilded Age.

  6. If the Quadrilateral is - and as far as I know it very much is and has been for more than a century - Anglicanism's shared minimum standard for full communion with other Christian churches, then it is misguided to attempt to impose a new or separate standard for full communion amongst member churches of the Anglican Communion. By new standard, I mean, of course, an internal covenant or anything else that seeks to turn the Communion into something it simply is not: a centralized church.

    I can't say I would like to see the Quadrilateral itself changed, but we could certainly do with a lot more discussion about this time-tested, ecumenical statement and its vital place in defining de facto what Anglicanism - generally speaking - is and stands for. This is not to say that the Quadrilateral provides a comprehensive definition of Anglicanism; of course it doesn't. What is does do is make very clear those things that are necessary to achieve and/or maintain full communion. (It seems only logical that this apply both externally and internally, lest a double standard arise.) Everything else is clearly - while perhaps not mere trifles - above and beyond that which has, for the past hundred years, been held by Anglicans to be ecclesiastical essentials.

    So, yes, let's by all means start with the Quadrilateral and figure out how we can maintain full communion amongst Anglican provinces when there is disagreement on those things that are not held universally to be essential for full communion.


  7. I think much of the Anglican Communion would see TEC as already in violation of point (a) of the Lambeth Quadrilateral. If there was a re-write of it to specifically exclude CANA, AMIA, etc., this would open the door to other exclusions as well -- and a number of provinces would push for our exclusion.

    Ultimately, I think the only answer is an Anglican Communion big enough to include +Gene Robinson and +Martyn Minns, +Akinola and +Schori. We'll all have to deal with each other in heaven, where St. Peter will not be checking the validity of our Anglican credentials. We might as well manage now.

    We all know that there will continue to be same-sex blessings and gay bishops and priests in TEC and ACofC. We also know that many Episcopalians will not be able to accept this, and will form this "alternate Anglican province" under Global South guidance. That's the reality. Let's accept it, and and move on.

    I know we think it's a big deal that there be one Anglican province per country. But that really only makes sense if there is one worldwide church, which is not what you want. The canons of Nicea presumed one worldwide church, not the reality we know.

    The property issues are a big deal, of course, and probably the biggest obstacle to accepting each other within one Anglican communion. But these property issues won't last forever; the courts will eventually sort them out, if we can't do it on our own.

    Mark, it was your suggestion some months ago that all be invited to the Lambeth Conference without distinction. It was a good suggestion. That's where I will still land: an Anglican association of churches broad enough to encompass all Anglican churches without trying to determine who the real Anglicans are, and who gets to define that.

    I'm not sure any other kind of Anglican Communion would be worth the trouble, unless it really was one church with one unified mission. I don't think that's going to happen.

  8. Here's why I'm not convinced changing the Quadrilateral itself - as opposed to reaffirming and working more regularly and intentionally with it throughout the Communion - would help:

    Can you even imagine the committee meetings?

    Unless something in the Quadrilateral were no longer true - and I very much assume that is not the case - then I think we're much better off working instead on affirming it, commenting on it - even where that occasions disagreement, for example re: some biblical issues - and living into it much better than we apparently have done. The Quadrilateral is, after all, meant to offer (from an Anglican perspective) a path to Christian unity.


  9. I think much of the Anglican Communion would see TEC as already in violation of point (a) of the Lambeth Quadrilateral. [Where (a) is "The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as “containing all things necessary to salvation,” and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith."]

    What the heck are you talking about, RB?

  10. jcf,

    My guess is that, when rb says, "I think much of the Anglican Communion would see TEC as already in violation of point (a) of the Lambeth Quadrilateral," he is referring to issues of sex and sexuality, which, sadly, this whole Anglican ruckus is about, as anyone observing it knows. This has been the problem all along: Some - possibly most - Anglicans believe the Holy Scriptures - "the rule and ultimate standard of faith," according to the Quadrilateral - fundamentally prohibit all "same-sex acts" for all time and that this is, in fact, a matter of faith. Other Anglicans discern in the Holy Scriptures no conception of what the modern world understands to be sexual orientation, and believe that interpreting the Holy Scriptures is an ongoing duty to God and humanity, and that issues of sex and sexuality are not core issues of the Christian faith. (Indeed, the Quadrilateral itself says the Nicene Creed is "the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.")

    Thus there are challenges of interpretation in the Quadrilateral as well. The point is, though, that *all* Anglicans agree with point (a) of the Quadrilateral. We differ in some ways on what it means in the life of the church that the Holy Scriptures are the rule and ultimate standard of faith. Some Anglicans accept divorce and remarriage; others (presumably still) do not. Some Anglicans accept the ordination of women; others do not. Some Anglicans accept the full inclusion of GLBT Christians; others do not. And all for reasons of biblical interpretation.

    The question before us all is whether we, as Anglicans, can continue to live with diversity of thought and practice when biblical interpretations and theological emphases differ. Some Anglicans - possibly most - say yes; others say absolutely not...



OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with comment moderation but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.