Play-In Round: George Berkeley vs. Samuel Seabury

January 18, 2013
Tim Schenck

Welcome to the third (of four) Lent Madness Play-In rounds! Today we have two early American bishops going at each other with the winner facing off against Hilda of Whitby in the First Round and the loser going home to do whatever bishops do when they sulk.

While one of these bishops is most closely identified with Berkeley Divinity School at Yale and the other is linked to Seabury-Western Thelogical Seminary, please don't view this as a battle between Tim (Seabury) and Scott (Berkeley). They are the height of non-partisanship and integrity when it comes to Lent Madness (though bragging rights are highly desirable in this case).

While Lent Madness contests should never be viewed as a competition between our remarkable Celebrity Bloggers, it's worth noting that this marks the debut of the Rev. David Sibley as he advocates for Samuel Seabury. Welcome to the Madness! It's also worth noting that in this Battle of the Preaching Tabs both David and Berkeley's advocate, the Rev. Neil Alan Willard, both try to work the all-important snark vote.

If you need more motivation to vote (and since you're already here you probably don't), check out the mysterious Maple Anglican's short video about this contest. Oh, and don't forget to "like" Lent Madness on Facebook. We never post cat videos.

berkeley-3George Berkeley

10. George Berkeley (1685-1753) was an Irish philosopher and Anglican bishop. Blessed with philosophical powers, he is therefore entitled to his own action figure. Where, pray tell, is Samuel Seabury's action figure? [Cue the sound of crickets chirping.]

9. Berkeley believed that material objects exist only because they are perceived by the mind. Some people mocked this notion, stating, for example, that a tree would cease to exist if no one happened to be walking past it. Berkeley's response to this objection was put into a humorous limerick by someone: "Dear Sir: Your astonishment's odd. / I am always about in the Quad. / And that's why the tree / Will continue to be / Since observed by, Yours faithfully, God."

8. In 1734 he published a book entitled The Analyst; Or, A Discourse Addressed to an Infidel Mathematician. Who hasn't dreamed of writing a lengthy essay such as this after becoming frustrated with math homework? Humanities students unite! Vote for Berkeley!

7. According to Judith Grabiner, an award-winning historian of mathematics: "Berkeley's criticisms of the rigor of the calculus were witty, unkind, and — with respect to the mathematical practices he was criticizing — essentially correct." So math majors and snark enthusiasts should also cast their votes for him

6. For $25 per year one can become a card-carrying member of The International Berkeley Society, "which was founded to enable its members to share their interest in George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne, the eminent philosopher and theologian and to be aware of his impact on philosophy, theology, science, and culture of western civilization, both past and present."

5. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Third Edition Revised, has an entry about George Berkeley on page 193 that takes up at least three-quarters of a column. Its entry about Samuel Seabury is stuck way at the back on page 1486 and takes up less than half a column.

4. Berkeley Divinity School at Yale is named after him. That's appropriate since he was not only a person of faith but also an intellectual. One need not check one's mind at the church doors.

3. The city of Berkeley, California, is also named after him. Strange but true.

2. Although Berkeley Divinity School at Yale and Berkeley, California, both use the pronunciation BERK-lee for themselves, serious students of religion and philosophy know that BARK-lee is the proper way to refer to the bishop himself. Voting for George Berkeley is the best way to show others that one knows how to pronounce the man's name correctly.

1. Berkeley Divinity School at Yale possesses the writing desk of that other bishop, Samuel Seabury, which serves as the altar in St. Luke's Chapel at the Berkeley Center, 363 Saint Ronan Street, New Haven, Connecticut. I'm not sure what relics of George Berkeley are in possession of Seabury-Western Theological Seminary. Come to think of it, I'm not sure where Seabury-Western Theological Seminary is these days. Since, however, it's still perceived in the mind of God, I'm sure — thanks to the philosophical writings of George Berkeley — that it does continue to exist somewhere.

-- Neil Alan Willard

samuel_seaburySamuel Seabury

10. Samuel Seabury literally put the “Episcopal” in the Episcopal Church: he was the first American Bishop.

9. Seabury felt called to be a priest at a very young age; and, because he was too young to be ordained after his graduation from Yale, went to Edinburgh to study medicine –- you know, just to pass the time until he could be ordained.

8. Seabury abounded in fidelity to his understanding of his call. During the Revolutionary War, Seabury – who was a staunch Loyalist and defender of the Crown and Church of England – was arrested, and paraded around upon his imprisonment. His family was beaten and his possessions plundered, and his wife ultimately died during that period. Seabury believed the only course for him would be exile in England – not a hearty prospect for someone who was born and raised in Connecticut.

7. Seabury’s fidelity to his call, however, transformed his life. He was ultimately chosen by clergy in Connecticut in the spring of 1783 to be the First American Bishop – but, despite his Loyalist tendencies, he was ultimately unable to be consecrated in England - because he refused to swear the required oath of allegiance to the King.

6. Seabury had no problem with the Holy Spirit at the Eucharist. In order to receive consecration as a Bishop, he went to Scotland, and there signed an agreement with the Scottish Episcopal Church, which included the promise to include elements of the Scottish liturgy – most importantly the invocation of the Holy Spirit (Epiclesis) – in the Eucharistic prayer.

5. In fact, he didn’t have a problem with much of anything about Eucharist at all – in  1789, he wrote a letter to his diocese – “An Earnest Persuasive to More Frequent Communion” – in which he expressed his desire that churches celebrate the Holy Communion every week – an opinion that set him apart from the vast majority of the church at the time, and ahead of his time liturgically.

4. Seabury’s writing proved he could be pointed, and yes, a bit snarky. In his letter on Communion, he wrote: “It is to be feared there are some who never think enough of the subject to make excuses about it. To these I have nothing to say at present.… I hope none, among you [are] in so hopeless a condition.” Reports do not say whether he gave opponents of weekly communion the silent treatment, but your author chooses to think he did. [Edited for premium snark value.]

3. Seabury was instrumental in the founding of King’s College, New York – which would later become Columbia University. Columbia has produced well over 50 Nobel Laureates, minds that led such advances as the splitting of the atom and the development of the laser.

2. Seabury is now remembered in many provinces of the Anglican Communion – including the Church of England that once denied him episcopal consecration – on November 14.

1. And finally, how can one not vote for someone who rocks the rochet and chimere with such gusto as our first bishop? His portrait was often described as picturing a giant standing against the whirlwind, of the times. He did just that, and for his resilience and fortitude, he remains a giant, and worthy of your vote.

-- David Sibley


George Berkeley vs. Samuel Seabury

  • Samuel Seabury (66%, 627 Votes)
  • George Berkeley (34%, 318 Votes)

Total Voters: 945

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87 comments on “Play-In Round: George Berkeley vs. Samuel Seabury”

  1. Well, I like them both. And I am serving in Connecticut, to which both have connections, Berkeley less so, but still...
    And yet, I vote for Sam, for I am a graduate seminarian of Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, class of '97, and yes, it does still exist, and not solely in the mind of its creator or God.

    1. Clearly the madness has been taken over by Tories.,.. What would the Tea Party think of supporting someone who opposed the American Revolution?

  2. While I like them both, how could one not vote for the man who put the Episcopal in The Episcopal Church? I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Bishop Seabury, and so I shall remain ever faithful to him.

  3. Since I went to seminary in Berkeley, California, and love Ireland, I have no choice but to vote for Bishop Berkeley. Besides, Seabury wasn't really a very nice person.

  4. When I was a philosophy student, Berkeley's was one of the very few proofs of he existence of God which I found both coherent and reasonable. As Luther and Duncan would say, "I can do no other!"

  5. I have to go with a vote for Samuel Seabury, not least because of the Scottish connection (Patiences and McColls are Scots all the way back) but mostly because my mother, father, and grandfather are all Seabury-Western alumni.

  6. Growing up in Ledyard, CT, my school bus used to pass Samuel's birthplace and home. By today's standards, it's the size of a tool shed, but it - and the fact he preached occasionally at the church I attended - connect me to him. Got to go with the home town boy!

  7. Good morning. Berkeley for us. Our dog, Chaucer, started wagging her tail when we told her that the guy's name had more of a "bark" to it than a "berk" so that's why he gets our vote.

  8. Seabury. As the world changed around him, he was - as you say - faithful to his call. Another way to identify with this, as a layperson, is that he never picked up his prayer book and left. His obligation was to his community, and he grew every step of the way. For this 21st C Episcopalian, THAT is everything. From 18th Century Tory to 21st Century Radical ? Nice job, Sam.

  9. Seabury all the way. Why? Because I would not be here if not for him.

    No, he's not my ancestor, but he's the reason my parents met. Mom went to Northwestern University and Dad went to Seabury-Western (class of 1954). Mom's roommate Carol was a good Episcopalian girl and would regularly go to hear Evensong sung and Mom (a music major) would sometimes go with her. The seminarians could tell which girls were there to Pray and which were there to Prey...prey on the single guys that is. Mom and Carol were there for the great music and could give two hoots about the guys - which means the guys loved having them around.

    One thing led to another - including one incident of a "group date" of a half dozen seminarians, 2 sorority girls and a cup of hot coffee being accidentally dumped into Dad's lap - and there you have it.

  10. Ahem. The last time I checked, it's = it is and its = ownership

    I dropped my scone in shock. What would Cranmer say?

  11. Sure, we talk about Seabury in Inquirer's Class. But seriously, who could put a treasonous egomaniac (the self-proclaimed Bishop of America) over the genius philosopher who precipitated the Anglican Apostasy at Yale?

  12. Berkeley alum and Connecticut native here. Had always heard the hagiography of Seabury as The First Bishop, was surprised to learn when I got to seminary that he was actually kind of a jerk. I voted for Berkeley, but I really play on Team William White.

  13. Had to vote for Berkeley today. He does hail from Ireland where my ancestors came from. In addition when one pronounces his name properly "bark" and not "berk" one is reminded of Sir Charles Barkley of basketball fame. After all this is Lent Madness and the connection is so obvious that the subliminal message placed here by the Supreme Executive Committee worked to sway my vote.

  14. I came to the Episcopal Church from the Methodist Church just at the time when the Episcopalians were going back to weekly communion. I am a sacramentalist and want my weekly communion! So I had to vote for Seabury!

    1. Same reason for me to vote for Seabury. Not that I was Methodist but weekly communion is important to me.

  15. Hard choice, but I'm voting for Bishop Berkeley, partly in honor of my beloved philosophy prof Chatles D Spotts (googleable) who introduced me to the idea that Christian philosophy was actually a thing. But also, as a sometime limerick writer myself, I burst with admiration whenever I read "yours truly, God"

  16. The results so far have not surprised me. Seabury has name recognition. You would think, however, that students and alumni of Berkeley would make a go of things.

  17. I had to vote for Berkeley because of the philosophy thing and the limerick. I do wonder what he(Berkeley) would have thought about Schroedenger's Cat? (and I do like cats and pineapples)!

  18. Tough choice - but I had to go with Seabury - I could never train myself to say BARK-ly Divinity School at Yale 🙂

      1. I share a birthday with Oliver Cromwell and Rene Zellweger...I don't really know why this is of significance, but I think we can agree that there are darker forces at work.

      2. Living in Hawaii, I respectfully disagree that an 8 am EST to 8 pm EST time frame is adequate to include the faithful in Hawaii, as that translates to 3 am to 3 pm. That seems very unfair to me. How would the folks on the East Coast react if their polls were open only between 3 am and 3 pm? Why not a midnight to midnight (EST) vote? Or could it be that the SEC has to get its "beauty rest" and therefore cannot stay up that late (or is not willing to), thereby cutting the poll time in Hawaii. This rings of politics at its worst, especially reminding me of the most recent national election in which several states intentionally changed its polling hours to exclude certain voters. I do NOT wish to imply that the SEC is intentionally trying to exclude certain voters, but I do hope it will reconsider the polling hours before voting in full bracket begins.

        Now, having said that, I'm ALSO very confused, as I voted after 8 pm EST, and it appeared my vote went through. Did you already change this, or did I miss something?

        1. Elizabeth, if you read Tim's post carefully, you'll see that he said voting is open for 24 hours, not 12 hours. So voting begins at 3 a.m. in Hawaii and goes until 3 a.m. the next day. You have a full day to vote, just like everyone else.

          One option for you would be to set your clocks ahead five hours for the duration of Lent. You could live on Lent Madness Standard Time.

          1. LOL, Scott. As I pretty much live on that schedule anyway, voting for me isn't a problem; I was awake at 8 am LMST when the polls opened and I could have voted then. I was just trying to make a point with EPIC FAIL results. And since I was (probably quite obvious now) always horrible at all things math, I had to vote for Berkeley, in the hope I would learn something. And I did. I learned exactly how bad my calculations REALLY are!!! But since you brought it up, will Lent Madness Standard Time switch Lent Madness Daylight Time on March 10, along with the rest of the U.S. (except, as I understand it, the state of Hawaii and some areas of Arizona? (Just curious. Kinda like a cat...) 🙂

          2. Help! Barbara Cockrell and I have the same problem. We can't find any mechanism that will allow us to vote. I've gotta support my man Seabury!

  19. Hard not to vote for someone who wrote limericks, but Sam did suffer for his conscience, a brave act.

  20. Having done research recently for a session on the history of the Episcopal Church, I too have learned of Seabury's jack-asshattery. He may have put the Episcopal in the Episcopal Church, but he wasn't at all interested in putting the laity or other clergy anywhere in charge. Had to go for Berkeley.

  21. A true dilemma for me as Rector of Trinity Church, Newport, RI. Bp. Berkeley was resident at Trinity Newport, preaching (with tabs, no doubt) often, building his home here, and, sadly, burying his child in our graveyard. In gratitude, he sent us a pipe organ - the second in the colonies. The Berkeley Society is based here - and we are firmly in the BARK-lee camp. And yet, Bp. Seabury was our first bishop, graciously agreeing to oversee the churches in Rhode Island when asked to do so by the founders of our diocese, the rectors of Trinity, Newport and St. John's, Providence. In the end, pipe organ trumps parochial report - I'm going with the good Mr. Berkeley.