Scottish Episcopalianism and Anglicanism

Scottish Episcopalianism and Anglicanism 

The EpiscopalianChurch in Scotland is not Anglican. However, it has drawn closer to Anglicanism since the 19th century and is now part of the Anglican Communion, its churches or congregations sometimes controversially termed ‘English’. The Episcopal Church is of native growth, with a very distinctive local colour.

Episcopacy was established by the Scottish Parliament under James VI and I, in 1612. The Five Articles of Perth were passed by a packed Assembly in 1618. The Prayer Book was imposed in 1637. Re-established as the StateChurch, at the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, it gained, with the exception of the Covenanting south-west, a great measure of popular support. The Episcopal Church of the 17th century did not, however, present the outward appearance that it presents today. Episcopalianism was ‘high’ in doctrine but ‘low’ in practice. The Church was governed by Bishops and it was the Bishops who ordained presbyters but the machinery of Kirk-session with its elders and the grouping of parishes in Presbyteries (close to Presbyterianism), also existed. In very few Churches was the English Book of Common Prayer or the Scottish Prayer Book of 1637 used. The “altar-wise” position of the Holy Table in Churches, the use of the surplice and the rite of Confirmation, were all unknown and the ordination of Deacons was very rare. The services in the Parish Kirks, though conducted by ministers who had been episcopally ordained, resembled Presbyterian practice.

The ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1689, was a turning point for the Episcopal Church. The Scottish Bishops had taken the oath of allegiance to James II and in consequence felt unable to recognize William and Mary. As a result of this action, the Scottish Parliament ejected the Bishops from their Dioceses (Act Abolishing Prelacy: July, 1689) and repealed the laws in favour of Episcopacy. The same Parliament in 1690 reinstated in their benefices all surviving Presbyterian ministers and rested the whole government of the Church in them and in such ministers and elders, as they might admit and receive. Thus, the Presbyterian Church was established as the Kirk of Scotland. No General Assembly was called; it was an act of State, not of the Church. The 1707 Union notionally protected the position of the Church of Scotland but within a few years a Scottish Episcopalians Act (1711) effectively circumvented that, passed in flat contradiction of Union guarantees, by Queen Ann’s Westminster Parliament. The Act’s aim was to help Scottish Episcopalians.

Episcopalians in the 18th century were split between Hanoverians and Jacobites. In 1715 and again in 1745 Episcopalian clergy and laity were prominent in the rising made on behalf of the exiled Stuart Kings. Following the suppression of the Jacobite risings, the Church suffered, with severe Penal Laws against it, passed by the Parliament at Westminster. The restoration of diocesan jurisdiction to the Bishops was the first step in the reorganisation of the Church. Four diocesan Bishops met in Synod at Edinburgh in 1727 and framed six Canons, which, though relating exclusively to the Episcopal Order, may be regarded as in some measure the groundwork of the Code by which the Episcopal Church in Scotland is now governed.

Two effects of the times of persecution can be seen today. Firstly, the Church survived better in the remote county districts, such as Appin in the West Highlands, than in unban areas. Secondly, the Church, needing the strength and unity of spirit which ordered worship gives, the practice of using the Book of Common Prayer began. What the State, in 1637, could not force upon the affections of Scotsmen disestablishment and persecution taught them to love and value.

The Scots, however, were not content with the English Prayer Book as it stood. They felt that it needed re-fashioning in accordance with national tradition. The 1637 Scottish Prayer Book, mainly the work of two Scottish Bishops, had been promulgated by royal authority under Charles I and it contained a form of the Communion Service much more like the forms of service of the early Church, than those in the English Book of Common Prayer. During the 18th century, Scottish scholars worked over this and improved it and in 1764 an edition of it was published, which has been known ever since as “The Scottish Liturgy.” This was used along with the English Prayer Book.

The Scottish Episcopal Church made history on 14th November, 1784, when, following American Independence in 1776/83, it consecrated the first overseas Episcopal Bishop, Samuel Seabury of Connecticut. Out of gratitude to the ScottishChurch, he persuaded the Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. to adopt a form of the Scottish Communion Liturgy.

Prince Charles Edward Stuart, the “Young Pretender,” died in 1788. The Bishops and clergy could, now, in conscience pray for the reigning King, George III. A 1792 Act of Parliament made it possible for the Scottish clergy to qualify for toleration and freed the laity from any penalty. Places of worship could now be built and Episcopal forms of public prayer used. Dioceses were once again established and the “College of Bishops” maintained as the supreme authority under the presidency of one of the Bishops who was elected “Primus.” This said, until 1864 certain disabilities remained in force against clergy ordained by Scottish Bishops, for example, they were not allowed to function in England.

During the 19th century the Church experienced both a great revival, which deepened its own life and, at the same time, lost a great deal of popular support. In Scotland, the chief religious event was the great upsurge of Evangelical fervour, which resulted in and, followed upon, the foundation of the Free Church in 1843. For, the Episcopal Church, the Oxford Movement, revived the sense of Churchmanship, the corporate element in Christian life and, a great understanding of and use of the Sacraments. Both Evangelicalism and High Churchmanship make large spiritual demands, resulting in the Church growing deeper but also narrower.

The 19th century was a century of growth. The first sign of this was the growth in the number of Dioceses, from four in the 18th century to seven in the 19th, at which it still stands. Church Schools were built in many places before the passing of the 1870 Education Act. As the Church is disestablished and has few endowments, revenue is derived from its members. For this reason, as well as others, the laity, have a voice in its councils. In 1876 the Representative Church Council was set up to be the organ of the Church for finance and the administration of business affairs. The ScottishChurch is fully self-governing and entirely self-supporting. Scottish Bishops are elected by the clergy and people of their Dioceses.

In 1912 a Scottish edition of the Prayer Book, containing the Scottish Liturgy, was published and 1929 saw the publication of the “Scottish Prayer Book” by authority of the Church. Of this book, the eminent English scholar, Dr. W. K. Lowther Clarke said: “The book as a whole is clearly the best of the Anglican Prayer Books” (Liturgy and Worship, p. 792). 1929 also saw the publication of a new edition of the “Code of Canon Law.” The story of the Episcopal Church in the 19th and 20th centuries is the story of a small Christian denomination within the nation, which has exerted, through its liturgy and spirituality, a great influence over order and dignity within the Established Church of Scotland. The Episcopal Church title-deeds are displayed in the motto of the Representative Church Council, “Evangelical Truth and Apostolic Order.”

The Scottish Episcopal Church claims to be an independent and truly native Church with clear differences with Anglicanism. It has not, for example, had any Archbishops since 1704 and has not revived the tile or the jurisdiction. To this day there remains debate about relations between Scottish Episcopalianism and Anglicanism.




Brown, C. G.: Religion and Society in Scotland since 1707, Edinburgh, 1997.


Donaldson, G.: The Making of the Scottish Prayer Book of 1637, Edinburgh, 1954.


Heal, F.: Reformation in Britain and Ireland, OUP, 2003.


Scottish Prayer Book, Edinburgh, 1929.


Spinks, B.: Sacraments, Ceremonies and the Stuart Divines, Ashgate, 2002.


Walter: Brechin: Primus & H. S. Reid, Prolocutor.: Code of Canons of the Episcopal Church in Scotland, Edinburgh, 1929.


Ecclesia Scoticana

 Canon Geoffrey E. Andow

(TAC: Provost of Caledonia

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