Rally around the Centre: Reclaiming the old Quadrilateral


UnknownIn 1870, less than five years since the end of the American Civil War, William Reed Huntinton, then rector of All Saints Church, Worcester, Massachusetts, wrote a treatise entitled: The Church Idea, an Essay toward Unity. In his essay, Huntington argued that just as the Union forces had needed a “definite and tangible centre, around which to rally” so too the churches of Christendom, at least those that claimed some element of catholicity and did not exist as some separatist sect, also needed to identify what the core of their faith was.


He writes:

“…whenever any social organization has become dispersed, or thrown into solution there is needed for its re-collection a firm core or nucleus about which the returning parts may group themselves.”


Huntington, as an Episcopal priest, set out to identify what the core principles of the Anglican Church are, in the hope that other churches would rally around those shared principles.


He continues:

When it is proposed to make Anglicanism the basis of a Church of Reconciliation, it is above all things necessary to determine what Anglicanism pure and simple is. The word brings up before the eyes of some a flutter of surplices, a vision of village spires and cathedral towers, a somewhat stiff and stately company of deans, prebendaries and choristers, and that is about all. But we greatly mistake if we imagine that the Anglican principle has no substantial existence apart from these accessories. Indeed it is only when we have stripped Anglicanism of the picturesque costume which English life has thrown around it, that we can fairly study its anatomy, or understand its possibilities of power and adaptation.


Huntington goes on to describe what he discerns to be the four principles of the Anglican Church, or as he also calls it the “’quadrilateral’ of pure Anglicanism”:


  1. The Holy Scripture as the Word of God: “How far and in what precise manner the divine and the human elements coexist there, it is idle to surmise…it is enough to know that in a sense peculiar and unique, differencing it from all other books, the Bible is God’s word or message to us.”
  2. The Primitive Creeds as the Rule of Faith: Huntington argues that the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed, both being from antiquity and representing the faith of the undivided church, ought to be the sufficient summation of Christian belief: “Certainly we who stand within the pale ought to be thankful for a Creed which enunciates the central truth of our religion with a distinctness and emphasis that fifteen hundred years of controversy have not sufficed to blur.”
  3. The two sacraments ordained by Christ himself: “the Two Sacraments of Christ’s appointment image forth to the eye His two all-comprehensive sayings, ‘come unto me’, ‘abide in me.’ The one is the Sacrament of Approach, the other is the Sacrament of Continuance. Baptism answers to the grafting of the branch; Holy Communion to the influx of the nourishing juices that keep the graft alive.”
  4. The Episcopate as the Key-stone of Governmental Unity: “There exists a form of Church polity which can be traced back, century after century, until we come to the very confines of the Apostolical age. A characteristic feature of this polity is headship. The name of it is the Episcopate.”


Huntington’s proposal was transformed into a resolution from the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church (passed in Chicago in 1886), stating that unity with Christians of different communions would be sought based on those principles. Two years later, in what was only the third international gathering of Anglican bishops (the 1888 Lambeth Conference), the bishops approved the same four principles stating that they supplied “a basis by which approach may be by God’s blessing made towards home reunion.”


These four principles have since become known as the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral and they can be found printed on pages 876 and 877 in the back of the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer. I think that it is a great pity, that in the life of our Anglican Communion at least, that is where they seem to stay.


During the past couple of weeks, as I have been watching the Anglican churches wrestling publicly with each other, I have wondered to myself: “Whatever happened to the Quadrilateral?” Are we unwilling to show our fellow Anglicans the same grace and latitude that we have in the past proclaimed that we are willing to show to any church? Have we lost all perspective as to what are the core principles of our church and now seem intent on dividing over issues that in the history of the Church, never rose to the level of core doctrine?


How is it possible that the Episcopal Church’s change to its canon on marriage is a greater threat to Anglican unity than the Columba Declaration (which is an agreement between the Church of England and the Church of Scotland that would allow Presbyterian clergy, which do not have the Episcopate, to serve in Anglican churches)? Or how is it possible that a gay bishop can create a more significant division in the Anglican Communion than bishops that openly and publicly denounce elements of the creed?


Perhaps the solution to our disunion within the Anglican Communion is the same solution that Father Huntington saw to disunion within Catholic Christendom: a deep understanding and commitment to our core principles and the ability to accept diversity in everything else. We need to renew our focus on what unites us, not what divides us. Maybe it is time to dust off the old Quadrilateral and start using it among ourselves.


Fr. Huntington concludes:

The first step toward finding a remedy for our ailments is to acknowledge that we are sick. Christendom, with a very querulous voice, is beginning to do just this. Then there is still further encouragement in the fact that all over the world religious thought is concentrating itself more and more every day upon the Person of our blessed Lord. Believers and unbelievers are alike agitated with the question, What think ye of Christ? This is a sure precursor of renewed efforts after unity. The more clearly our holy religion is seen to have its centre in Him whose name it bears, the more will those who love him in sincerity feel that the Church must be one.

The full text of William Reed Huntington’s essay can be found here.

2 thoughts on “Rally around the Centre: Reclaiming the old Quadrilateral

  1. Robert Moen

    thanks for the article, both Carole and I read it. I agree that without the creed, the church will have lost what is one of the most important part of the church. I never knew that the prespaterian ( I don’t know how to spell it) doesn’t have the creed. Thanks again for the article.

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