An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church

Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral

Statement of the four Anglican essentials for a reunited Christian Church. It concerns the scriptures, creeds, sacraments, and the historic episcopate. It was approved by the House of Bishops at the 1886 General Convention in Chicago, and subsequently approved with modifications by the bishops of the Anglican Communion at the Lambeth Conference of 1888.

A primary source for the Quadrilateral was The Church-Idea, An Essay Towards Unity (1870) by William Reed Huntington (1838-1909), an Episcopal priest. He indicated the Anglican basis for an ecumenical "Church of the Reconciliation" in America should be acceptance of l) the Holy Scriptures as the Word of God; 2) the Nicene Creed as the rule of faith; 3) the two sacraments ordained by Christ himself (baptism and the eucharist); and 4) the episcopate as the keystone of governmental unity in the church. This "foursquare" approach became known as the "Quadrilateral." Huntington was the moving force behind its approval by the House of Bishops in Chicago.

The Chicago version of the Quadrilateral provides an ecumenical statement of purpose and introduction which states that the Episcopal Church is "ready in the spirit of love and humility to forego all preferences of her own" concerning things of human ordering or choice regarding modes of worship, discipline, and traditional customs. However, the statement of purpose warns that 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 days of its existence."

The four points of the Quadrilateral were listed by the Chicago statement as "inherent parts" of the sacred 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. . . ." The Chicago statement lists the Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith. With respect to baptism and the eucharist, the Chicago statement calls for administration of these sacraments "with unfailing use of Christ's words of institution and of the elements ordained by Him." The Chicago version expressed the fourth part of the Quadrilateral in terms of "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." Although the Quadrilateral was not enacted by the House of Deputies at the 1886 General Convention, it was incorporated in a general plan referred for study and action by the newly created Joint Commission on Christian Reunion.

The Quadrilateral was passed in a modified form as "Resolution II" of the Lambeth Conference of 1888. At Lambeth the four essential "parts" were termed "Articles." The introductory statement of purpose of the Chicago version of the Quadrilateral was deleted and replaced by a simple statement that the four Articles "supply a basis on which approach may be by God's blessing made towards Home Reunion. . . ." The Lambeth version states that the scriptures provide "the rule and ultimate standard of faith." The Lambeth text affirms the Nicene Creed as the "sufficient statement of the Christian faith" but also adds the "Apostles' Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol" to the creedal article of the Quadrilateral. The Lambeth version adds the statement that the dominical sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist were "instituted by Christ himself." The article concerning the historic episcopate was not changed at Lambeth.

At the 1895 General Convention of the Episcopal Church, the Commission on Christian Unity was continued with the goal of seeking Christian unity on the basis of the "principles enunciated throughout the Declaration of the house of Bishops made at Chicago in 1886, and as reaffirmed by the Lambeth Conference of 1888." Thus for the first time the entire General Convention of the Episcopal Church affirmed the Quadrilateral in its Lambeth form. The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral has continued to serve as the primary Anglican working document and reference point for ecumenical Christian reunion. The Chicago and Lambeth versions of the Quadrilateral are included in the historical documents of the 1979 BCP (pp. 876-878).


Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.