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. Had to go with Berkeley. Anyone who would challenge math is my kind of guy. But you got me with the Action Figure!

  2. I hereby appeal to the Supreme Executive Council with a challenge to the qualification of entrant Seabury. Seabury is not included on the Episcopal Church calendar of saints. The date of his consecration is remembered with gratitude for the gift of the episcopate to this church, but Seabury himself, as a person, is not commemorated. He should, therefore, be disqualified from this competition.

  3. St. Paul's, Woodbury, Connecticut, home of Glebe House, and host church that called the meeting to select the first bishop, proudly casts it's vote for Samuel Seabury.

  4. Bishop Berkeley was a real player in the significant events of his time. His arguments are relevant to the wonder at current discoveries in quantum physics as well as his epistemological and empirical arguments leveled against his rivals, Locke and Hume, are relevant to today's political climate. This puts George Berkeley in the same category as Anselm of Canterbury and William Temple. As an Irish wit, who often talked 'tongue in cheek', not an easy thing to do in philosophical circles, we should include him with affection equal to that which we bestow on our brother Jonathan Swift. In an age in which we are hoping to revitalize our church rather than fossilize it, I vote Berkeley over Seabury.
    Also, it will give the 'pronunciation mafia' plenty of recurrent opportunities to say "It is pronounced BARKLEY not BURKLEE!

  5. "I hope none, among you [are] in so hopeless a condition." [Edited for max snark...]...

    Ummm... I actually hope that none of you IS in so hopeless a condition that you missed the grammatical error above. 😉

    Seabury, FTW.

  6. Hello?!? Everyone is missing the obvious deciding factor here! Clearly, anyone who merits an action figure, merits the vote. Furthermore, I would claim that Bishop Berkeley could easily have held his own in one of those holodeck poker games hosted by Data and Geordi on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Therefore, with apology to David, I must cast my vote for Bishop Barkeley.

  7. We, the Supreme Executive Committee, have received a formal complaint, charging that Samuel Seabury is ineligible for competition in Lent Madness. At first, we expect that the complaint would relate to a faux girlfriend or perhaps some doping. But, in fact, the basis for the claim is that "The Consecration of Samuel Seabury" is in the calendar, and not the commemoration of Samuel Seabury himself, so he should not be eligible for the bracket. The assumption here is that competitors for the Golden Halo must be saints on the calendar.

    While we appreciate the intent of the complainant, we deny the merits of the complaint. The only criteria for Lent Madness eligibility is that one be a departed saint (that is, a baptized person). Usually, these are saints from Lesser Feasts & Fasts, Holy Women, Holy Men, or the calendar of another Anglican church. Sometimes, however, we include other persons. A bit of research on this year's crop of saints will yield some examples (we want you to look it up, so we're not telling you who these people are).

    To be thorough, we looked into it, and we could find no faux girlfriends for either bishops Berkeley or Seabury, nor did we see evidence of doping.

    We do note that "Consecration" in this context is an outdated term, left over from the 1928 prayer book. We'd prefer to see "The Episcopal Ordination of Samuel Seabury." But we digress.

    Samuel Seabury retains his eligibility for the Golden Halo.

    1. Thank you for keeping our venerable First Bishop in the contest, and not eliminated him based upon a certain Liturgical Scholar, who shall remain unamed, hatchet job.

    2. Perhaps the esteemed complainant is new to the Madness established by the SEC in previous years. To be included in the bracket, a saint doesn't have to be a Saint, but might be someone met in a shop or at tea...

  8. Is there a reason, the time difference possibly, that we in Hawaii miss getting our vote counted? I remember having this problem last year too. Our pre game info said the polls open at 8 am and I was online before 9 but there is no way to vote. I have heard this as a reason others dropped out of the game in the past. Need to address this for those of us over here.

    1. Father Eric,

      I have spoken with both of the Archbishop-Commentators I have on "staff" here and both gave me their assurance that Bishop Samuel Seabury is not in "That Other Place". Further, His Grace the ex-Archbishop of Canterbury has pointed out to me that the Church of England has a Commemoration to Bishop Seabury on the date of 14 November, which while being the date of his Episcopal Consecration, is a Commemoration of *him* and not his Consecration. As the Church of England is the mother Church of the Communion he submits this as being sufficient.

      However, His Beatitude does believe that you pointed out an interesting argument...that doesn't matter because he is *certain* Hilda of Whitby will "pile drive either of them into the floor". Those are his words and not mine.


  9. Constance, the polls open at 8 am Eastern time and remain open for a full 24 hours. That should give our mammoth global audience plenty of time to cast their votes.

  10. Raising a hand for the Church of Ireland, it really has to be Berkeley (pronounced Bark-ley at least in his almae matres Trinity College and Kilkenny College.)

    1. Also, while be certainly lived in America for a time. He was in no sense an "early American bishop." He was a appoined Bishop of Cloyne in Cork Ireland, stortly after his return from Rhode Island.

  11. I am truly torn and had a hard time deciding. But in the end family comes first. And my sister-in-law's family name is Berkeley. Pronounced Barkley. So there you have it.

  12. I served at St. Columba's, Middletown which is the Berkeley Memoria Chapel, but I don't know how you could vote against Seabury...

  13. Since I had a long ago great uncle who was ordained by Bp. Seabury, how could I NOT vote for him?

  14. I vote for Seabury. Without him, we'd all be Unitarians in fancy dress. Also, my Geer ancestors were very firmly rooted in Connecticut (originally in New London/Ledyard). My g-g-g-grandfather served a number of different parishes in CT in the first half of the 19th century. And as an graduate alumna of Columbia, I should be loyal to the old King's College. So - Seabury gets my vote!

  15. Voting for wedding anniversary is November 14th, the feast of his's how I remember it!

  16. I'm an Episcopalian, therefore voting for Seabury. And I'm also a big fan of The Holy Spirit and Eucharist! I also have difficulty with Berkeley's tree proposition as being precedes the perception of being... Descartes had it all backwards too.

  17. Berkeley did, in combination with Hume, give rise to Kantian metaphysics and epistemology. Seabury has lit no such intellectual fuse.

  18. Go Berkeley! Seabury didn't play well with others. Unfortunately, my DW cancelled out my vote 🙁

    1. It's not so much that Seabury didn't play well with others; it was that he was holding the line against those who would water down what he considered to be the true expression of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

  19. So how do I vote. I know I did it last year but can't seem to figure out how this year.

    1. I don't know how either! Last year we had a button to push, but I can't find it. I put in a word to Scott about it, so hopefully we'll hear something soon.

  20. Sorry Barbara and Harlie, voting has closed on this one. We keep the polls open for 24 hours, starting at 8 am Eastern time. HOWEVER, the next and last of the four play-in rounds will take place on February 2nd between John Donne and T.S. Eliot. Make sure to sign up for email alerts on the home page so you never, ever miss another crucial vote! (if it makes you feel better, Seabury won in a rout so it wasn't exactly a nail biter).

    1. Thanks, Tim. I guess it's hard to vote when the polls are closed! And yes, it does make me feel better that SS won in a rout. Pretty good for a "treasonous egomaniac"!

  21. One of these days, I hope, the Episcopal Church will broaden its spiritual horizons to be more inclusive in something more than a "who's in the kitchen" sense...

    1. Fr. Krueger, I'm not sure what you mean by "more inclusive in something more than a 'who's in a kitchen' sense."

      However, as Christians we need to be careful to avoid a cultural 21st century Doctrine of Discovery that says we can claim anyone from any spiritual tradition that gives us warm and fuzzy feelings on how they appear to be brothers of a different mother to our own tradition. When Christians do that, it is no different than Mormons baptizing those who died in the Jewish Holocaust in Nazi Germany.

  22. The formal, but not real, reason Seabury was not consecrated in the state Church of England was the Oath of Allegiance to the Crown. The real reasons are more conplex. The English bishops could not believe that a Loyalist could be accepted as a bishop. And Seabury did not have the right connections in the English ecclesiastical power structure. A number of Loyalist clergy had come to England where they were getting by on a Loyalist pension as they sought jobs in the English and Irish church. The bishops feared that if Bishop Seabury was not accepted in Connecticut he would turn up in England like a bad penny and expect a bishop-level pension John Adams secured letters from the Connecticut state government that Seabury would be acceptable, but these were not believed. And Seabury was known only as a long-time missionary for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. He had been educated in America and in Scotland, not at one of the English universities. Provoost was a Cambridge graduate, and White had spent his diaconate with his London aunts getting to know all the leaders of the English church. The decision of the English bishops and leadership was based in fear and social class. What else is new?