Samuel Seabury vs. Hilda of Whitby

February 21, 2013
Tim Schenck

In what seems to be shaping up as the Year of the Martyr, today's pairing involves not a whit of martyrdom. The first bishop of the Episcopal Church faces a 7th- century monastic leader and both died of natural causes!

Yesterday, in a most lopsided match-up, Oscar Romero made quick work of Elizabeth Ann Seton defeating her 68% to 32% with nearly 4,500 votes cast. Interestingly the comments were split fairly evenly between the two even if the votes were not.

Many of you, especially those new to Lent Madness (welcome aboard the SS Madness!), have asked how the official bracket is formulated. In this brief video filmed last Eastertide, Scott and Tim give you a peek behind the purple curtain of Lent Madness. You might be surprised at the "scientific/holy" methods used to create our special blend of saintly absurdity.

samuel_seaburySamuel Seabury

Samuel Seabury (November 30, 1729 – February 25, 1796) was the First Bishop of The Episcopal Church, consecrated as the Bishop of Connecticut on November 14, 1784.

Seabury was born in Groton, Connecticut in 1729. He attended Yale College, and studied theology with his father. From a young age, he had felt a call to ordained ministry; however, canonical age restrictions prevented his ordination following his university studies. To pass the time, Seabury moved to Scotland, where he studied medicine in Edinburgh. In 1753, at age 24, he was ordained as a priest.

Seabury returned to the United States, where he served as rector of several parishes from 1754 onward. It was during his time as Rector of St. Peter’s, Westchester (now the Bronx), that the American Revolution erupted. Seabury proved himself a staunch defender of the crown, writing several tracts under the pen name of “A. W. Farmer” (an exceptionally uncreative acronym for “A Westchester Farmer”). In 1775, Seabury was arrested and imprisoned by local Patriots. During this period, Seabury’s family was beaten, his possessions ransacked – and his wife ultimately died. Seabury faced the possibility of exile in England.

In March, 1783, ten Episcopal clergymen, meeting in Woodbury, Connecticut, elected Seabury as their second choice to be Bishop. When the first choice declined, Seabury sailed to London in July of that year to be consecrated bishop. But after a year of negotiation, Seabury was unable to obtain episcopal orders from the Church of England, since, as an American citizen, he could not give the canonically required oath of allegiance to the King. Seabury turned to Scotland, whose non-juring bishops did not require an oath of allegiance. In return for reception of episcopal orders from the Scottish Church, Seabury signed a concordat agreeing to incorporate elements of the Scottish Eucharistic Liturgy – most notably the invocation of the Holy Spirit (or epiclesis) – into the new American Liturgy. In November, 1784, he was consecrated bishop. Seabury’s consecration as bishop by the Scottish church ultimately spooked the English Parliament enough to make provision for the consecration of foreign bishops: in 1786, William White and Samuel Provoost would ultimately receive their episcopal orders from the Church of England. Seabury returned to New London, Connecticut, where he served as Rector of St. James Church, and Bishop of Connecticut; in 1789, his ordination was recognized by the first General Convention of the Episcopal Church; in 1792, he joined in the first ordination to the Episcopate on American soil when he, White, and Provoost ordained John Claggett of Maryland.

Seabury was ahead of his time in many of his liturgical persuasions – some of which made him a polarizing figure within the church of his day. Today, the innovations don’t seem quite as controversial and instead ahead of their time: Seabury advocated for weekly celebrations of the Holy Communion and was among the first post-Reformation bishops to wear a mitre.

Seabury died in February, 1796, and is buried at St. James Church, New London, Connecticut.

Collect for the Consecration of Samuel Seabury
We give you thanks, O Lord our God, for your goodness in bestowing upon this Church the gift of the episcopate, which we celebrate in this remembrance of the consecration of Samuel Seabury; and we pray that, joined together in unity with our bishops, and nourished by your holy Sacraments, we may proclaim the Gospel of redemption with apostolic zeal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

-- David Sibley

St_HildaHilda of Whitby

Hilda was born into nobility, the grandniece of King Edwin, and was baptized on Easter Day in 627 with the entire noble court of the King. We know almost nothing about the first half of her life. Presumably she did not marry, and after King Edwin was killed in battle, she went to live with her sister in East Anglia. She then planned to join her widowed sister in a convent in Chelles in Gaul, but Bishop Aidan of Lindisfarne changed her plans, as bishops tend to do. He asked her to settle in Northumbria to be part of a monastic community there. With her companions in this monastery, she lived in the Celtic Christian tradition Aidan brought from Iona. A year later, Aidan asked Hilda to found  a double monastery (which accepted both women and men) in Hartlepool. After several years there, Aidan again asked Hilda to take her monastic show on the road and establish a monastery in Whitby in 657. It, too, was a double monastery where men and women prayed, served, and learned together in community.

The Venerable Bede writes of Hilda that she established a regular life in Whitby and “taught the obedience of righteousness, mercy, purity, and other virtues, but especially peace and charity. After the example of the primitive Church, no one there was rich, no one was needy, for everything was held in common and nothing was considered to be anyone’s personal property.” Hilda was called “mother” by all who knew her.

Hilda was an early spiritual director and diplomat. Common people as well as kings and others in power came to her for advice in their spiritual challenges and questions of life. She would have eschewed the title (because she was a big fan of humility and equality) but she was most certainly a Cardinal Mother. Her monastery at Whitby produced five bishops and Caedmon, an early English holy poet who wrote in (shockingly enough) vernacular English, a first in literature of the day. Because of Hilda’s support and encouragement of his poetry and education, she is also called a mother of English literature.

As if being a Cardinal Mother, the founder of several successful monasteries, and the mother of English literature wasn’t enough, Hilda’s denouement in her life of faith occurred at the Synod of Whitby. The male leaders of the day got together to decide (argue) whether the Church in England would follow Aidan’s Celtic Christian lead or fall in line with the more Roman expression of Christianity. The big controversy between the two was not women’s ordination or the full inclusion of lesbians or gays, or the use of incense, but the date of Easter (I know, clutch your pearls). Hilda favored the Celtic tradition, but when the Synod decided to follow the Roman tradition, she spoke passionately and as one with authority that she would be obedient to the Synod’s decision and expected others to do the same.

She died in 680, surrounded by those who called her monastery home. Her last words were not of church power or ecclesiastical wealth, but of faithfully following a Gospel of love and peace. Always.

Collect for Hilda of Whitby
O God of peace, by whose grace the abbess Hilda was endowed with gifts of justice, prudence, and strength to rule as a wise mother over the nuns and monks of her household, and to become a trusted and reconciling friend to leaders of the Church:  Give us the grace to recognize and accept the varied gifts you bestow on men and women, that our common life may be enriched and your gracious will be done; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

 -- Laurie Brock


Samuel Seabury vs. Hilda of Whitby

  • Hilda of Whitby (79%, 3,552 Votes)
  • Samuel Seabury (21%, 959 Votes)

Total Voters: 4,508

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169 comments on “Samuel Seabury vs. Hilda of Whitby”

  1. Yes, he was a Tory, but so were many Anglican ministers of the day. Hilda was born to royalty - how likey would she have been a Patriot? If it weren't for Sam the Anglican Cathedral in Edinburgh would be adorned with the flags of the Highland regiments like many other English churches - instead of the flags of the fifty states of the United States.

  2. as the Rev. Barbara Crafton pointed out Hilda was really Hild. She already has 80% of the votes-including mine- and it's only 8am down here. sorry Sam. only one can win.

  3. With respect to Bishop Seabury, for me it's Hilda all the way. On a parish pilgrimage to Walsingham, we visited Whitby, and I was aided in that trek by a cane that I named Hilda. That very transformative pilgrimage and both Hildas are with me still.

  4. Bishop Seabury made a significant impact on the church but have to vote for Hilda - a Cardinal Mother & progressive thinker!

  5. Oh good grief: in the vote-in round, I cast my ballot for Sam, whose day of consecration (NOvember 14th) is my wedding anniversary...but compared with Hilda of Whitby, he's not even in the same league!

  6. I've recently learned that the early Americans had plenty of reason to have Seabury ans their second choice, and not just his Tory leanings. I was amazed
    that they went ahead and named the school after him anyway, given his personality.
    Hilda sounds more "saintly," although I've heard it said saints are great in Heaven but hell to live with on Earth.

  7. I have to vote for Sam. I want to know how he got from prison to Bishop - though it looks like I will never find out!

  8. Hilda all the way....Amazing that she had any power/say during the time that she lived. Also, Bishop Seabury was an English loyalist??? W.A. Farmer....
    Ok, it wasn't a nice thing what the Americans did to him and his family. We all have to stand for our own ideals I guess....

  9. Poor Sam........He was no political extremist, braved the ocean deep to receive ordination even tho he was 2nd choice, trudged about finding episcopal hands that would not let politics get in their way, came back and served in a dubious role, and still died in bed. He gets my minority vote.

  10. This is a match that I've been looking forward to. I went to the now defunct SWTS and loved it . Sam's fortitude was an inspiration to me. My grandmother's name was Hilda so I've loved Hilda of Whitby ever since I found her. As much as I am thankful for my association with Seabury I think that blood is thicker. My vote is for Hilda, sorry Sam.

  11. Seabury, I'm not a fan of all the bishop bashing that is going on here. If not for Seabury there would be no Episcopal Church. Therefore no Lent Madness, there for Hilda might have been lost to history on this side of the Atlantic.

    Additional point, I serve under the bishop who wrote the book on Seabury ( One, Catholic and Apostolic Samuel Seabury and the Early Episcopal Church )

    So while I love the concept of double Monastic orders in the country side of England, I have to go with the first Bishop of my tradition, Tory and all (there were after all a lot of other Tories too).

  12. I just need to say that I feel guilty for not voting for Seabury just because he looks just like Bates on Downton Abbey.... but alas, women of power always reel me in quicker.

    1. Jan, I wrote my comment above before I read yours, so we must be on the same page. Seen in person onstage, Brendan Coyle (Bates) is much better looking than Sam, so I think your vote was well cast. I went with Hilda, too.

  13. I voted for Seabury for the messiness of it all. In revolutionary situations it is difficult to see ahead and know what the outcome will be - or which is the right road to get there. I have wondered if I had been born in those times if I would have chosen revolution, or if born in Jesus time if I would have dared to follow him. seabury seems to have followed his calling to ordained ministry through many twists & turns and changes so I voted for him.

  14. This was a tough one - weekly Eucharist, getting around the system, and the epiclesis or double monasteries, Celtic Christianity, 5 bishops, and a poet. In the end, Hilda it is.

  15. Without the electrion and Scottish consecration of Samuel Seabury, any Catholicity would have been absent from the newly organized Protestant Episcopal Church. I admit he was Tory, fat, arrogant, and egotistical, but without him we might well have been just another Protestant Church, with nominal Bishops at best, and a much less Catholic liturgical tradition! No disrespect to Hilda, but this man was a VERY important part of of our evolution as a church!

    1. The 1552-1662 Canon has a petition that the communicants ;may be partakers of [Christ's] most blessed Body and Blood" -- the 1789 American Canon has a similar petition but associates it specifically with blessing and sanctification by the Word and Holy Spirit; Seabury's own proposal went further still and prayed for the elements to become for us the Body and Blood, and this has been incorporated into most of the new canons in the 1979 BCP. So 1662 had a minimal prayer for the effects of consecration; Seabury (following the Scottish Office had an actual prayer for Consecration; 1789 compromised with a stronger prayer for the effects of Consecration, and now we have several prayers which recover Seabury's intent. The invocation of the Holy Spirit is traditionally key to the definition of the Epiclesis, the Scots took this from their study of Eastern liturgy, and Seabury did bring this to our Church.

  16. This one was so hard. As a Celtic woman, I really admire Hilda and her work with the double monastic tradition. However, Seabury was the first bishop and is from Groton, where I was also born and grew up. I mean, how often do you come across someone from Groton? So, since I am feeling nostalgic and homesick, especially for my beloved snow, Seabury got my vote.

  17. It seems to me that Seabury is backward looking, supporting the King and all, and Hilda was progressive. He will have to be content with having his name immortalized in Seabury Press. Go Hilda!

  18. It's amazing that so early in church history the men seemed more enlightened to the place of women in the church. So glad that Aiden was one of those men. Hilda all the way.

  19. The first Episcopal church I belonged to proudly claimed Samuel Seabury as one of its early rectors. If truth be known, he sent subordinates there becasue it was too far from Manhattan being on Staten Island. And since I am both Irish and English...the rebel in me won out and I decided, happily to vote for Hilda...besides, she is more interesting.

  20. You forgot to mention the other great controversy at the Synod of Whitby, the form of the tonsure. The Romans cut on the top, leaving a ring of hair; the Celts cut from ear to ear.

  21. Going through the comments, it seems that anyone who has visited Whitby is an automatic vote for Hilda. We went on a typically drizzly British day, but by the time we hit the stairs (!) to the Abbey, the sky cleared and it was the most gorgeous and peaceful day. That alone would have swayed my vote. But, as someone posted earlier: 5 bishops and a poet! She obviously encouraged thinking in that beautiful abbey on the seaside. Go Hilda!

  22. Hilda all the way! My dad was from Yorkshire, so I have a special fondness for that part of England. I also admire her connection to Celtic Christianity and her support of the poet Caedmon.

    My dad would have had a tough time voting in this one--on the one hand, Hilda had connections with his homeland, on the other, Sam was on the correct side (in his opinion) in that war where the colonies were lost...