In doctrine the Apostolic Episcopal Church differs very little from the other Eastern churches of orthodoxy. In general it is thoroughly in accord with the faith and order of the historic Catholic wing of Christendom, and similar in polity and in worship. Its chief characteristic is that the liturgy the Eucharist or Mass is generally in the English language, since that is the language of the United States. However, as it is a fundamental principle to minister in the language of the people, this church also provides for services in other tongues where the need requires.
Statement of Archbishop Brooks as printed by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1936
What we believe
The Apostolic Episcopal Church affirms the Holy Orthodox Faith, in which we are guided by the Canon of St. Vincent of Lerins: that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all is truly Catholic (universal). We accept the seven Ecumenical Councils of the united Church. We keep the Faith once delivered unto the Saints as charged by Blessed St Jude Thaddeus, Apostle, our Patron, without which faith and apart from which Holy Church of God in Christ there is no salvation.
We regard the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith, and as containing all things necessary to salvation.
We accept the Apostles’ Creed, as the Baptismal symbol, and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.
We accept seven sacraments: baptism, anointing (confirmation or chrismation), communion, penance, holy orders, marriage, and holy unction. The Eucharist (Mass or Divine Mystery), as it is referred to, is definitely regarded as a sacrifice.
We accept and fully uphold the teaching of Supersessionism.
The Apostolic Episcopal Church acknowledges Christ as the one, real and substantial Head of the Church (both of the ideal and actual – visible and invisible) throughout all time and in all places, unto the consummation of the Kingdom. It looks to the words of St Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch in writing to the Church of Smyrna, “Where Christ is, there is the Catholic Church”. It disclaims that any man can possibly be the supreme head of the Whole Universal Church in the place of Christ the Lord. As such, it believes along with the Eastern Orthodox churches that the Pope of Rome holds a primacy of honour, and not one of jurisdiction.
The Apostolic Episcopal Church from 1992 onwards formally subscribed to the Affirmation of St Louis, the 1977 founding document of the contemporary Continuing Anglican churches, as a member church of the erstwhile International Confederation of Traditionalist Anglican/Episcopalian Churches adhering to the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral requirements of Anglicanism. Today, it continues to subscribe to the essential principles of the Affirmation of St Louis, while viewing these in the light of the continued working of the Holy Spirit within the Church. One key difference from the position of the Affirmation is that the Apostolic Episcopal Church, while determinedly traditionalist in its liturgical practice, has today returned to its original position whereby it does not restrict its form of worship solely to that of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.
The Apostolic Episcopal Church also continues to affirm the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, agreed by the bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church in 1886. The text of this is as follows:
“We, Bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, in Council assembled as Bishops in the Church of God, do hereby solemnly declare to all whom it may concern, and especially to our fellow-Christians of the different Communions in this land, who, in their several spheres, have contended for the religion of Christ:
1. Our earnest desire that the Savior’s prayer, “That we all may be one,” may, in its deepest and truest sense, be speedily fulfilled;
2. That we believe that all who have been duly baptized with water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, are members of the Holy Catholic Church.
3. That in all things of human ordering or human choice, relating to modes of worship and discipline, or to traditional customs, this Church is ready in the spirit of love and humility to forego all preferences of her own;
4. That this Church does not seek to absorb other Communions, but rather, co-operating with them on the basis of a common Faith and Order, to discountenance schism, to heal the wounds of the Body of Christ, and to promote the charity which is the chief of Christian graces and the visible manifestation of Christ to the world.
But furthermore, we do hereby affirm that the Christian unity can be restored only by the return of all Christian communions to the principles of unity exemplified by the undivided Catholic Church during the first ages of its existence; which principles we believe to be the substantial deposit of Christian Faith and Order committed by Christ and his Apostles to the Church unto the end of the world, and therefore incapable of compromise or surrender by those who have been ordained to be its stewards and trustees for the common and equal benefit of all men.
As inherent parts of this sacred deposit, and therefore as essential to the restoration of unity among the divided branches of Christendom, we account the following, to wit:
1. The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the revealed Word of God.
2. The Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian Faith.
3. The two Sacraments — Baptism and the Supper of the Lord — ministered with unfailing use of Christ’s words of institution and of the elements ordained by Him.
4. The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church.
Furthermore, Deeply grieved by the sad divisions which affect the Christian Church in our own land, we hereby declare our desire and readiness, so soon as there shall be any authorized response to this Declaration, to enter into brotherly conference with all or any Christian Bodies seeking the restoration of the organic unity of the Church, with a view to the earnest study of the conditions under which so priceless a blessing might happily be brought to pass.”
The Apostolic Episcopal Church generally interprets the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England in accordance with Tract 90 of the Revd. John Henry (later Cardinal) Newman.
Issues of practice
The Apostolic Episcopal Church views marriage as one of the sacraments instituted by Jesus Christ and as the Divinely ordained setting for procreation and the family. It takes the definitions of St Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologiae, supp. Q.42) as its basis for the understanding of marriage as a sacrament. It recognizes that marriage can only be entered into by a couple of the opposite sex. It further holds that, with certain rare medical exceptions, the gender of a person is that which was determined at birth.
In the United States, ministers of the Apostolic Episcopal Church may, like ministers of other Christian churches, celebrate marriage according to the established rites of the Church provided they comply with the legal requirements of the state in question. Elsewhere in the world, ministers of the Apostolic Episcopal Church may celebrate marriage according to the applicable laws in the country concerned. Sacramental certificates for marriage are issued centrally and follow a traditional format.
Because the laws of some countries have adopted a definition of marriage that is opposed to the traditional sacramental understanding held by the Apostolic Episcopal Church, the Apostolic Episcopal Church recognizes that there may be some circumstances in which a couple, after having taken appropriate legal advice, may wish to marry sacramentally (in what is sometimes referred to as a covenant or common-law marriage) but not to register the marriage, in which case it will be recognized according to the canon law of the Church but not according to the laws of the country concerned. The Apostolic Episcopal Church recognizes sacramental marriage irrespective of whether the marriage has been legally registered or not.
Divorce and remarriage
The Apostolic Episcopal Church maintains a marital tribunal that has the power to annul a marriage that has been found by the tribunal to be invalid. The decisions of the tribunal are made within the canon law of the Church solely and do not have any impact upon secular laws. Where a marriage has been annulled, the parties are themselves responsible for instigating divorce proceedings (which are entirely separate from the process of annulment) should they wish the dissolution of their marriage to be recognized by the law of their country.
Divorced persons can only remarry, according to the religious rite, by dispensation; but in order to do justice, the Church has an ecclesiastical tribunal to consider applications for dispensations in such cases, and any divorced baptized person, or baptized person whose previous marriage has been annulled, may apply to the Church for dispensation. If dispensation is freely granted by the tribunal the divorced person or person whose previous marriage has been annulled may marry again with the benediction of the Church, as though never married before, and one of the clergy may officiate.
The clergy consists of men in the major orders of deacon, priest and bishop. The clergy may marry either before or after ordination. The clergy includes both major bishops and chorepiscopi. A chorepiscopus holds the full Apostolic Succession (and may thus ordain or consecrate validly) but has restricted faculties, whereby he can act only in concert with a major bishop, or on the commission of such a bishop. This office is comparable to that of an auxiliary bishop in other churches. Senior priests may be appointed to the office of archpresbyter.
Women may be set aside to the ancient order of deaconess and the office of messenger but are not ordained to the major orders as a matter of practice. The Apostolic Episcopal Church does not take an official position on the validity or otherwise of the ordination of women, but holds that it is incompatible with its aim of ecumenical reunion among traditionalist Christians, and must therefore await the decision of a future Ecumenical Council of the reunited Body of Christ.
The church is both sacerdotal and evangelical, and provides for the ordination of men as lay readers and preachers, teachers and evangelists, as well as to the major orders. The apostolic constitutions are accepted as a guide in principles and tradition.
Confession and the use of Ikons
The church encourages the practice of auricular confession (penance) and regards the seal of the confessional as absolute.
In accordance with its Eastern character, the church permits and encourages the use of Ikons in places of worship and in the home of members, and fully approves of their veneration. An Ikon is not merely a painting, but a sacred representation of its subject, such that to kiss or venerate it is to show love to those whom it depicts.
The church is opposed to the legal availability of abortion for other than genuine medical reasons.
The Apostolic Episcopal Church has its own Liturgy, The Divine Liturgy. Holy Eucharist. According to the Order and Usage established in the Apostolic Episcopal Church, published in 1943 by Archbishop Brooks, having been developed by him during the 1930s. This combines elements of the Protestant Episcopal Missal and the liturgies of the Eastern churches. The Church also has its own Episcopal Consecration Liturgy dating from the same period. In addition, there are two Hungarian language liturgies prepared by Archbishop Victor de Kubinyi.
The ancient, historic divine liturgies of St. James, St. Mark, St. Clement, St. Gregory, St. Thaddaeus, and St. John are all authorized for use in this church, as are the Book of Common Prayer (1662 up to the 1928 edition) and the English Missal. The Divine Liturgy of St Gregory, originally developed by our intercommunion partners the Society of Clerks Secular of St Basil, is a vernacular form of the “Tridentine” Mass, designed for Western Orthodox use. In 1905, under the guidance of Archbishop Tikhon Bellavin (later Patriarch of Moscow), the Holy Synod in St. Petersburg approved the use of the Anglican Liturgy for Western Rite Orthodox Christians. Today this usage is called the Rite of St. Tikhon and is in use among many Orthodox Western Rite Jurisdictions. Other liturgies in keeping with historic Catholic and Orthodox practice may be authorized from time to time. The liturgy may be celebrated in English or in other languages as pastoral need requires.
There is nothing cold, sanctimonious, unctuous, condemnatory or “puritanical” in our midst; the most spiritual people are usually the most natural. We hold that natural pleasures were given to us by God to enjoy, and the people are encouraged not only to have fellowship together in the public worship and works of mercy and love, but as members of the same Family of God to enjoy their social pleasures together also. We do not teach total abstinence from the good things of life, and our people are free to go to theatres, cinemas, dances, and so forth, and to take liquor and to smoke, just as they desire; although we do inculcate moderation in all things. The “killjoy” attitude is emphatically condemned by us, for it is really Manicheeism, an ancient heresy against which the early Church strenuously contended.
Mar Georgius of Glastonbury, Maranatha Pamphlets no. 2: The Catholic Apostolic Church (Catholicate of the West) (Glastonbury, 1947)
The Apostolic Episcopal Church approaches the Christian Faith in a spirit of broad-minded spiritual enquiry. It distances itself from those currents that may be termed narrowly ascetic, and that characterize extreme Protestantism or Puritanism. The predominant quality that can be seen in the past leadership of the AEC is a steadfast witness to the Catholic and Orthodox Faith alongside a wide-ranging intellectual exploration that has embraced various strands of philosophical and esoteric thought – and that in our view is fully characteristic of our Anglican heritage. From the outset the AEC has attracted a number of men and women of intellectual achievement and broad spiritual interests. It has always permitted its members to be Freemasons, and some members have also had significant involvement with Rosicrucianism.
It should not be thought that the AEC itself, in allowing this freedom to its members, endorses any form of belief that is at variance with the Christian Faith as that Faith has been historically interpreted. To study teachings is not the same as to profess them as beliefs. In the event that such teachings or practices may be in conflict with an Orthodox witness to the Faith, they are not supported by the AEC nor is an adherence to them compatible with our membership.