Over his fifty-seven years as rector of Christ Church Philadelphia, fifty years as the first Bishop of Pennsylvania, and his cumulative forty-two years as first and fourth Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of the United States, for which he was also the principal architect, the Rt Rev’d Dr William White was instrumental in living and teaching what we hold fast as a perennially relevant form of christian churchmanship — one that is centered on the personhood and divinity of Christ Jesus, but is liberal, latitudinous, reconciling, rational, and unabashedly humanistic. It may be, like so many of the great Pennsylvanians that left their mark on American history, that White embodied an ideal for which the mold was thereafter broken. However, we, the principle shareholders of the William White Society believe that it is our solemn duty to encourage the cultivation of those virtues which Bishop White spent more than half a century preaching and practicing, for the sake of both our ecclesiastical and secular institutions and thereby our christian confession and commonweal in a time no less tumultuous, factional, and uncertain.
To that end, we propose a threefold commitment to the cultivation of wisdom, patience, and a reconciling temper, that we might lead one another into ways of stability and peace. We propose, firstly, a commitment to religious education, making accessible to everyone what became known as the Bishop’s Course — a reading curriculum first compiled by Bishop White in a letter to Henry Hobart. This curriculum will provide a ready foundation for anyone interested in Classical Anglican formation. But we purpose to go even further and create curricula that encompass the full latitude of Anglican-Episcopal thought as it has developed in the past two hundred years — highlighting the very best of what has been thought and said. We will also seek to compile, edit, and publish the extent works of Bishop White himself, always a model worthy of study and emulation. Secondly, we propose to periodically publish patient, pragmatic, and reconciliatory original analysis and commentary by our contemporaries. Thirdly, we will sponsor the development of practical ways to structure our common life and ministry in the world.
On the Rt Rev’d Dr Wm White
William White was born in Philadelphia on April 4, 1748. He entered the English school of the newly established Philadelphia College (to become the University of Pennsylvania) at seven, graduated to the Latin school at ten, and the college at thirteen, earning his Bachelors of Arts at seventeen in 1765 and his Masters of Arts three years later. In 1770, he sailed to England and was ordained a deacon by Philip Yonge, Bishop of Norwich. Two years later, he returned for his presbyterial ordination at the hands of Richard Terrick, Bishop of London. White served as rector of the United Parishes of St Peter’s and Christ Church in Philadelphia from ordination until death. He was awarded his Doctorate of Divinity in 1781 from the University of Pennsylvania.
Following the American Revolution, in 1782, he drafted his proposal for democratic, federated church governance that included lay representation in the Case for the Episcopal Churches Considered. In 1787, after long and careful negotiation, he become the first bishop of the American Episcopal Churches to be consecrated in England, with full collegial recognition and without obligation to take the Oath of Supremacy, by John Moore, Archbishop of Canterbury; William Markham, Archbishop of York; Charles Moss, Bishop of Bath and Wells; and John Hinchliffe, Bishop of Peterborough. He served as the first and fourth Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church (1789; 1795–1836), and as the first and fourth President of the House of Deputies (1785, 1789).
As a leading citizen of Philadelphia, White was an exemplar of christian philanthropy, founding, organizing, or sitting in trust over countless educational and charitable enterprises, including founding the first Sunday school in the United States, a school for Native and African American children, the Magdalen Society in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, and the Philadelphia Society for the Alleviation of Miseries of Public Prisons. He was also a longtime member of the American Philosophical Society and a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania. His commitment to liberal governance, to relief for the unfortunate and suffering, and to education for all was so complete that it could be said upon his death, “I offer you no detail of the virtues and actions of the illustrious man whose remains are before you, because it would be but a recital of the catalogue of human duties, with the declaration that he fulfilled them daily and hourly. His domestic love, his social excellences, his professional assiduity and fidelity … all these are known to you; but they were so constant, that to name examples would be to leave unnoticed far more of the list than could be laid before you.”
The William White Society’s work is primarily textual — archival research, transcription and editing, as well as publication. We’re looking to make available the textual resources that comprise our theological curricula, Bishop White’s original works, and contemporary commentary, analysis, and schemata in the most user-friendly and accessible formats, using as much as possible the bleeding edge of digital media, deeply informed by the wisdom accrued by typesetters and typographers in presenting the written word over the past five hundred years. In addition to the collection, editing, and indexing of this work, we seek to make it available in the most readable formats, both for browser-based viewing, as well as in printable and digital reading formats. We’re especially excited to experiment with some of the most innovative techniques that emerged in digital publishing, including, we hope, on-demand printing of custom typeset editions of these works. Our principal shareholders have been inspired by the work done for twenty years by the Society of Archbishop Justus and hope to participate in the important work of digitizing Anglican thought.