Parliament and the law of the Church of England, 1943-74

[A much-abbreviated version of my forthcoming chapter in Thomas Rodger, Philip Williamson and Matthew Grimley (eds.), The Church of England and British politics in the twentieth century (Boydell and Brewer, Woodbridge, forthcoming).
It is due in late 2019 or early 2020; in the meantime, I should be happy to share the draft privately.]

In almost all its aspects – liturgical, pastoral, doctrinal – the post-war Church of England was imbricated with the law. A vast body of statute law, built up over centuries, touched the Church, symbolized by the fact that the 1662 Book of Common Prayer had formed an annexe to the Act of Uniformity of the same year, with the effect that its text had statutory authority. This body of law related to strictly ecclesiastical matters and also to many other less spectacular issues involving finance, property and a multitude of other things.

In recent years historians have been interested in the Church of England and the law, but largely in one particular aspect: that of the law on public morality and its piecemeal liberalisation during the late 1950s and the 1960s. The significance of this emptying of the ‘moral law’ of its Christian content has been understood largely in its relation to secularization, whether as cause, consequence or both. (On this, see Michael Ramsey and the Sexual Offences Act 1967).

However, these three decades saw a profound shift in the legal status of the established Church, obscured by the apparently unchanging appearance of the relationship of Church and state. During this period there was no material change in the relationship between the Church and the monarchy; in the place of the bishops in parliament, or the appointment of those bishops in the first place; in crown appointments, of bishops and other church dignitaries.

However, even though the facade of the relationship between Crown, parliament and Church remained unaltered, a host of changes both large and small between 1943 and 1974 combined to hollow out the structure behind that facade. By means of a long sequence of legislation presented to parliament, the state ceded to the Church greater control of its worship and doctrine, the discipline and deployment of its clergy, its organizational structure of parishes, and of its buildings and other property. Taken together, these changes constitute a profound shift in the nature of the Church-state relationship in England.

The House of Commons.
UK Parliament, CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0), via Wikimedia Commons.

However, despite the coherent shape the changes take when viewed in retrospect, there was no controlling strategic direction behind them from the leaders of the Church. This is not to say that there was no body of opinion within the Church that desired greater independence; this there certainly was, but it did not hold sway. The period is best understood as one in which several different processes unfolded, according to their own logic and on differing timetables. Each strand of reform implicated each of the others, however, and so the process was iterative and piecemeal, with the effect of one change in the law often being found to demand another.

Three contexts

The immediate context that served to force the Church of England to consider its internal organization with fresh impetus was the effects of the Second World War. Church buildings up and down the land had been damaged or destroyed by enemy bombing; populations had been dispersed from the cities to new areas, which required fresh provision of buildings and clergy; in the countryside, increased mobility, agricultural change, and the closure of village schools all lessened the self-contained nature of the parish. As well as all this, the Church faced an acute financial crisis. The clergy were often in the wrong places, in unsuitable homes, and were paid unequally and often very poorly. There was a need to put the house in order, and this could not but involve the law and parliament.

As the historian Paul Welsby observed, it seems extraordinary that given the immensity of the challenges it faced, the post-war Church of England should also have embroiled itself in the overhaul of its canon law: a process that occupied many hands for two decades, but so it did. A third context was ecumenical contact between the churches, in which the relationship of the Church of England and the law became a complication – if not indeed an obstacle – in moves towards reunion. How could a united church settle its doctrine if the doctrine of one partner was subject to parliamentary approval? How could local schemes of co-operation and sharing of buildings proceed if such re-use of Anglican churches was restricted by the law? At every turn the Church of England was less free to move than the churches with which it was in dialogue.

Church and parliament

At the Church’s request, parliament had in 1919 passed the so-called Enabling Act. The Act provided for the formation of the body that became known as the Church Assembly, in which the Church could decide what it wished to change in the law, and draft ‘measures’ to effect the change, a new kind of legislation by which statute law could be amended or repealed. Yet, it was still for parliament to accept or reject such measures as were presented to it.

Parliament was accustomed to dealing with bills, which passed through several stages and which could be amended before becoming acts. Although the line between the two was not always clear, there was a different procedure for measures. The Ecclesiastical Committee of parliament was made up of fifteen members from each House. In consultation with its counterpart, the Legislative Committee of the Church Assembly, it was to consider each measure brought forward and report on its ‘expediency … especially with relation to the constitutional rights of all His Majesty’s subjects’. Once the report from the Committee was in hand, both houses had the opportunity to accept or reject the measure, but not (crucially, and in contrast to the procedure for bills) to amend it.

Though the personnel changed over time, there was usually a small number of peers and MPs, often themselves members of the Church Assembly or the Ecclesiastical Committee, who spoke on debates on Church measures. In most cases the debates were not long, and the numbers of parliamentarians who voted on them were small, if indeed the houses divided at all. A good share of the measures brought to parliament passed without debate, due not least to the habit of those in charge of parliamentary scheduling of placing these debates late at night, at the very end of the day’s business.

As well as pressure on parliamentary time, there were other reasons why parliament sat loosely to the Church business with which it was asked to deal. One was a reluctance on the part of parliamentarians, both from other Christian churches and from none, to be dealing with what they regarded as essentially private matters of the Church of England. Members affiliated to the other churches in England often expressed their sympathy that Anglicans should have the internal workings of their Church subject to such scrutiny. Chuter Ede, Labour home secretary (but speaking personally, as a Unitarian) thought it ‘an anachronism that still these intimate domestic details of a spiritual entity should be subject to the approval of this House, in which sit Nonconformists, agnostics, atheists, Jews, and persons of the most diverse religious persuasions’. It would, he thought, ‘be to the advantage of the Church herself, and more in keeping with modern views on these matters, if the Church were disestablished’.

MPs from time to time wondered aloud whether it was in fact a rule, or at least a convention, that Anglicans alone ought to speak and vote in such debates. On occasion, there was a similar reticence from Welsh and Scottish MPs, representing constituencies where the Anglican church was not established. As a result, members from outside England spoke relatively infrequently.

Amongst parliamentarians of all parties and of all varieties of churchmanship, there was a constant undertone of discontent with the process that the Enabling Act had put in place. There was frequent disagreement over whether there were any circumstances in which parliament should reject the settled wishes of the Church. Had the spirit of the 1919 Act been that the parliamentary stage should be a final debating stage, akin to the report stage for a bill? Or, was it a mere formality, the application of a rubber stamp (arguably the effect of the words of the Act)? If the latter was the case, and parliament ought never to reject a measure if the Ecclesiastical Committee commended it, why should it spend time debating them? Since parliament was, in effect, presented with nothing concrete to decide, debates were often circuitous and vague, and wandered far from the specific matters at hand.

There was also some discomfort with being asked to approve sometimes lengthy and miscellaneous measures while having no power to amend them: the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure of 1963 ran to some 89 sections. ‘It has been truly said’ argued one Conservative MP in 1944, ‘that Parliament can do anything except turn a man into woman. There is one other thing which it cannot do, and that is amend a Measure brought down from the Church Assembly’. Though parliament had powers to divide measures into shorter ones to be considered individually, they were seldom used. So, objections and concerns were often raised about particular matters, but divisions were not forced, due to a reluctance to send a whole measure back to the Church for the sake of a single section or clause. In an increasing range of cases, parliament was content to rely on assurances given in debate, where once it would have exercised control.

While there was never any significant move to have the Act amended, or even repealed, the discontent with its operation was a constant from the 1920s until well into the 1970s. Though discontent was regularly voiced about the substance of particular measures, there was insufficient pressure in parliament either to reform the process by amending the Act, or to repeal it, or to move in the opposite direction towards a more wholesale freeing of the Church from parliamentary oversight. The effect of this discontent was instead to militate towards greater and greater autonomy by omission. Seeing in the Act a job half-done, parliament (in a fit of absence of mind) completed the job of giving the Church autonomy by a series of small steps.

The sequence of individual measures and bills examined here (passed between 1943 and 1974), more than three dozen in total, when taken as a whole amounted to a highly significant loosening of parliamentary control over the Church. Almost none of them tightened that control; it was a long series of small steps, miscellaneous in themselves, but all in the same direction. Perhaps most well known was the granting of independence in liturgical revision and the settling of doctrine by the Worship and Doctrine Measure of 1974 (which is dealt with in the full version of this article, along with clergy discipline). Here I want to focus on just two out of several aspects of the changes: parishes and people, and money and buildings.

Parishes and people

The physical destruction of the war, and the population shifts to which the bombing gave rise, brought into relief the stability of the parish and the rights of clergy in relation to their bishop, patron, and parishioners. The clergy were not to be regarded as employees, who could be moved from post to post by their managers the bishops; the relative autonomy that their freehold provided was an important component of the parochial system, which was in turn a key part for some of the ordering of English society. A sequence of measures during and immediately after the war seemed to undermine that freehold, and shift the balance of power from the clergyman to his bishop. Some in parliament regarded this as an instance in which constitutional rights – of the clergy themselves – needed to be protected.

The process began innocuously enough, with the New Parishes Measure of 1943, which rationalized the process of creating new parishes and the associated issues of patronage to benefices, land transactions and the like. It passed through both houses of parliament without debate or a division. Hard on its heels, however, was the Reorganisation Areas Measure of 1944. In blitzed areas, there were churches and clergy without populations to which to minister; elsewhere there were displaced people without access to the sacraments or pastoral ministry. The Church needed the powers to reorganize parishes to reflect the change. So much, so efficient; but what of the rights of the incumbent minister in a parish set to disappear? Surely (it was argued) one unwilling minister ought not to be allowed to frustrate the necessary reorganization of a whole area. The measure provided for the expropriation of the rights of incumbents to endowments of property as part of a reorganisation, for which they would be compensated. Though one MP thought it a ‘great constitutional change’, the measure nonetheless passed without a division, late at night with few MPs present.

The process continued with the Pastoral Reorganisation Measure of 1949, which took the freedoms of the 1944 Measure and applied them to the whole country (at the diocesan level), allowing the creation of team ministries in groups of parishes, the equalization of stipends and the better alignment of men with the size of the population. The Labour MP Tom Driberg thought it ‘a decisive further step in the destruction of the parochial system of England’. However, again, the House did not divide and the Measure passed. The Pastoral Measure of 1968 rationalized and extended these powers, and in 1977 the Dioceses Measure took the logical next step by the creation and dissolution of dioceses without reference to parliament.

Money, land and buildings

Among the later measures that passed through parliament were those that related to the freedom of the Church to deal with its monies, lands, and buildings. The same impetus came to bear as with parishes, concerning the ability of the Church to adapt and redirect its resources in line with changing pastoral circumstances. Of these, the issue of monies was the least difficult, and during the earlier part of the period there were a succession of small adjustments in the law, largely unremarked and undisputed, all of which gave the Church greater discretion within the law. Even such minutiae as the Parochial Church Councils (Powers) (Amendment) Measure of 1949 were part of the same process, as it widened the range of activities for the pursuance of which local churches could hold property.

However, in its local context the Church was not only the giver of pastoral care and its buildings places of worship; it was also both a neighbour, and the custodian of buildings about which many people had strong feelings. And many of these disputes had to be settled in Parliament. No-one thought the oversized church of St. Saviour, Paddington was of particular architectural merit; the proposal in 1968 to demolish and replace it was opposed on the ground that it formed part of an architectural whole with the neighbourhood. The 1968 case of St. Mary’s church in the north London suburb of Hornsey exposed the complexities of the law relating to burial grounds. The sale of a disused burial ground belonging to St. George’s, Hanover Square, as building land was opposed in 1964 by local residents as a diminution of the open space in the neighbourhood. In 1968, in the context of increasing ecumenical hopefulness, Mervyn Stockwood, bishop of Southwark, needed to come to parliament for permission to sell a redundant church to local Roman Catholics, in the face of Protestant opposition.

Despite these sensitivities, the bulk of the restrictions were swept away in three pieces of legislation in two years, all of which passed with little difficulty. The Pastoral Measure of 1968 dealt with the issue of churchyards and redundant churches, such that parliament would no longer be called upon to deal with them singly, though the state retained some powers. Despite some unease about placing more matters in the discretion of the bishop, the measure passed both houses without a division. The Redundant Churches and Other Religious Buildings Act of 1969 progressed through parliament in a similarly smooth fashion. The sharing of church buildings with other Christian denominations was enabled by the Sharing of Church Buildings Act of 1969.

Conclusion

The Worship and Doctrine Measure 1974 was by no means the last on which parliament had to adjudicate, or an end to debate about its role. Some in parliament thought that some of the changes of the previous years had been steps too far, and had been allowed to pass too easily, and that there had been a high-handedness in the Church’s exercise of its new freedoms.

Despite this, neither before 1974 nor after was there any concerted attempt from either Church or state to amend or repeal the Enabling Act, whether to streamline the process, to repatriate powers to parliament, or to alienate them entirely. Though dissatisfaction was often expressed with both principle and process, those with the power to instigate fundamental change did not do so.

Despite the semblance of continuity, during the three decades after the Second World War there was a subtle but profound hollowing-out of parliamentary control of the Church of England. The unwieldy and unsatisfactory nature of the process instituted by the Enabling Act left parliament both unsure of its role, and as time went on, increasingly reluctant to perform it. By a sequence of several dozen unco-ordinated but nonetheless related measures and bills, the Church secured greater discretion in the handling of parish organisation, the deployment and discipline of clergy, the management of financial and other assets, not least buildings, and the freedom to determine its own forms of worship and its doctrine. Whatever the term ‘establishment’ had been understood to mean, by 1974 parliament no longer believed that it entailed detailed oversight of the working of the Church.

Labour and the Free Churches, 1918-39: a review

Peter Catterall
Labour and the Free Churches, 1919-1939. Radicalism, righteousness and religion
London, Bloomsbury, 2016; paperback edition 2018
978-1-4411-1589-8

[A forthcoming review for the Journal of Beliefs and Values.]

As Peter Catterall notes in the introduction to this important book, the existence of an intimate relationship between the Labour party and the Free Churches was once axiomatic: in the immediate post-war period it was commonplace in the general understanding of the party’s history that, as one secretary of the party noted, Labour owed more to Methodism than Marx. The connection was also articulated by Alan Bullock in 1960, but has become occluded in subsequent historical writing. Catterall’s aim is to examine the relationship afresh, in which he succeeds splendidly. The book will be required reading for anyone interested in the relationship of faith and politics between the wars.

As a distinguished scholar of both British political history and of the Free Churches, Catterall is well placed to examine the relationship between the two, having already made important contributions to the parallel story in the Conservative party. Here his case is unfolded carefully and in detail, resisting the lure of easy simplification, and though difficult to summarise adequately in the small space available here, it richly repays a patient and attentive reading. It is a relatively uncommon form of historical writing: the comparitive history of two institutions, quite distinct from each other but both with claims to make in the national conversation about the common good and the means of achieving it. As such it blends intellectual, political, social and economic history, and successfully at that.

Chapters 4 and 5 concentrate in particular on the sociology of Labour and the Nonconformists, as voters, in local government, in the trade unions, and in Parliament. A complex electoral picture emerges, as Labour gained some Nonconformist votes that previously went to the Liberal party almost as of right, whilst Stanley Baldwin’s Conservatives captured the support of others. However, Nonconformists were disproportionately represented in local government, as union officials and as Parliamentary candidates. Catterall convincingly attributes this to the unique opportunities that the chapels provided for the working man: to debate ethics, to organise and to preach. A generation of men emerged that were recognised for their drive, their skills as speakers and as organisers, and for their honesty. Even though by 1939 the numbers had fallen, the effect was still significant.

Perhaps of particular interest to readers of this journal is Catterall’s interpretation of the theological and moral trajectories taken by both the churches and the party. Catterall shows that the ‘Nonconformist conscience’ took a complex and interesting turn in the interwar years (chapters 2 and 6). At least some Nonconformists remained exercised by the traditional causes of temperance, gambling and the Sabbath, and individual voices within Labour continued to promote them. But the tone was tempered by a growing realisation that these were not simply individual moral failings but part of a complex interaction of economics and politics, and the effects of war. Issues such as unemployment were no longer seen as the product of individual sinfulness and vested interest, but the imperfect workings of a impersonal system. Within Labour, whilst those individual voices were present and largely took over a role played before by Liberal MPs, the legacy of the Nonconformist conscience was not at the level of specific policy but in a certainty and a righteous of tone: the rhetorical deployment of an ethic of the New Testament without its soteriology (chapter 6). Labour MP George Thomas referred to a ‘feeling of crusade’ amongst some of the MPs of the Attlee government (p.154).

Chapters 1 and 8 demonstrate the subtle but remarkable shift in Nonconformist opinion in its attitude to the state. From being an instrument of oppression and religious discrimination, the apparatus of the state became the means by which Christian ethical ends might be achieved, even if in the long run there was disappointment in the effects the welfare state had in practice. At the same time, the disestablishment of the Church of England became an old man’s cause as the relationship of that church with Parliament shifted with the Enabling Act of 1919, and as ecumenical contact between the churches grew. The last major instance of organised anti-Anglican Erastianism was the campaign against the 1902 Education Act.

If there is any criticism to made, it is at a structural level, as the thematic organisation of the book tends to obscure the chronological interaction of those themes, and there is some occasional repetitiveness. Many names also come and go; this reader, at least, would have welcomed a more detailed placing of these (mostly) men in their particular context, and to be reintroduced to them as they appear again. That said, Catterall’s book is a landmark in the history of the British churches in the interwar period, and will most likely remain a key starting point for scholars for some considerable time.

The religious crisis of the 1960s

[My review of Hugh McLeod’s 2007 study The Religious Crisis of the 1960s (Oxford University Press), first published in Reviews in History. Ten years on, it remains a highly important piece of work, and I note that (ten years on from the 2008 celebrations of the Paris events of 1968, the legacy of the 1960s remains as contested as ever. Some of the themes of this review were picked up in the conclusion to my own book on Michael Ramsey.]

The 1960s, it seems, are always with us. The media weakness for anniversaries and the broadcast time afforded by digital television issued last year in a series of programmes on BBC4 concerning the double anniversary of the Wolfenden Report (1957) and the consequent Sexual Offences Act (1967). Similarly, at the time of writing there are the first stirrings of what promises to be an extended media retrospective on les événements of 1968. This media interest is not purely historical, since, Austin Powers-style nostalgia aside, the 1960s are still widely made to carry significant symbolic weight in contemporary social and political argument. Veteran soixante-huitard Tariq Ali has reflected on the lost vision and idealism among those on the political left, in an article in The Guardian entitled: ‘Where has all the rage gone ?’ In the same paper, another columnist confessed that he had not been born to see 1968, ‘but I yearn for its dizzying spirit’. (1)

Among religious commentators, the assessment of the legacy of the 1960s has tended to be more downbeat. Events of the period, both within and outside the churches, are often central to narratives of how the churches came to be in their present (supposedly) denuded state. The path forward now often involves the reversal of much that was done and said then. In Roman Catholic debate, the central event is the Second Vatican Council (1962-5) which (as Hugh McLeod outlines) is often regarded either as a brave and prophetic attempt at reforms that were both inevitable and right, or the precipitant of calamitous decline in church attendances and vocations to the priesthood (pp. 11-12). For the contributors to the 1980 collection Ritual Murder, the process (as they saw it) of the wholesale abandonment by the Church of England of the poetic riches of the Book of Common Prayer and the Authorised Version was begun in earnest in the 1960s; ‘a course redolent of the botched idealism and class paternalism of that lost decade’. (2) Differently again, British conservative evangelical critics of the moral decline of the nation have tended, both at the time and since, to see the cluster of reforming legislation of the late 1960s as the insertion of the thin end of the wedge into the nation’s moral fibre. (3) Common to all these strands of criticism is the sense of trahison de clercs; that the line against change might well have held had it not been for the collusion of muddle-headed reformers within the churches.

It is into this far from neutral field that Hugh McLeod’s new study comes. While professing a qualified sympathy for the reforming ideas of the period (p. 12), McLeod scrupulously eschews both cheerleading and lament. In patiently sifting out what may actually be known, rather than merely supposed or half-remembered, it gives some qualified support to most of the variants of present polemic while capitulating to none. It is perhaps invidious to attempt to summarise what is in itself a summary treatment of a period of very great diversity, and so this review will be confined to some aspects of scope and method.

Even if the causation and significance of the crisis is disputed, common to almost all writing on the religious history of the 1960s is a sense that something very important did happen. In the 1950s, the majority of the population were, at least nominally, affiliated to one of the Christian denominations; the numbers of those professing other religions, or none at all, was relatively small; the churches remained highly influential institutions in national and social life; and the majority would still have articulated the identity of the nation in Christian terms. By the end of the period, the kaleidoscope had been vigorously shaken: the range of practically available alternative systems of belief had widened; the churches faced severe difficulties in the recruitment and retention of clergy, and a sometimes catastrophic fall in the traditional statistical indicators of religious affiliation; a significant linguistic shift had occurred in the articulation of national identity, from the ‘Christian country’ to ‘civilised society’; and the concept of Christendom had been wounded, perhaps fatally. As McLeod suggests, it may not be putting it too strongly to suggest that the period may eventually be regarded as seeing a ‘rupture as profound as that brought about by the Reformation’ (p. 1).

There has been an upsurge in professional historical work on the period in recent years, as the 1960s move far enough away from the present to come into clearer focus, and McLeod provides a review of the field (pp 6-15) which may well find its way onto reading lists in its own right. McLeod notes the disparity between very long-term explanations of religious change (such as that associated with Alan Gilbert, p. 8) and the emphasis on the importance of very sudden changes (Callum Brown and Peter van Rooden, p. 9). He argues, with Leo Laeyendecker (p. 10) for an analysis which combines the long-term secularisation narrative with medium-term processes, such as growing affluence or intellectual change, and with the immediate impact of events, such as the Second Vatican Council and the Vietnam war. The whole study is characterised by a scrupulous and highly successful weaving of these threads into a comprehensive narrative of the period.

One of the many and great virtues of the book is its breadth of geographic scope. While it is admittedly most detailed in its treatment of Britain, its scope is very much wider, taking in much of northern and western Europe, Australasia and North America. This has two effects. The first is to free the account from the constraints of either too narrow a national or denominational focus – tendencies which have in the past severely limited much religious history writing. It also allows the study seriously to engage with the international aspects of the crisis, such as the effect of the mushrooming of diverse religious ideas which may be grouped under the label of the ‘counter-culture’ (chapter six) and the effect of the political ferment of 1968 and the churches’ engagement with Marxism (chapter seven).

A second most welcome aspect of McLeod’s study is a refined chronology of the period. Taking Arthur Marwick’s ‘long’ 1960s (1958-74) as the outermost frame, McLeod sees the period as falling into three broad stages. The early part of the period, to 1963, was characterised by a cautious questioning of the status quo within the churches, but without fully developed programmes having yet emerged. There followed a period of ‘aggiornamento’; the high-water mark of reforming activity, attended by a sense of optimism among the reformers about what might be achieved. This period up until 1966 is splendidly evoked in chapter four, with the prophets of the New Reformation, John A.T. Robinson and Harvey Cox, publishing their most significant work simultaneously with the deliberations of the Second Vatican Council. The later part of the period saw a reaction against much of the reforming activity, from figures such as Mary Whitehouse, along with a marked loss of nerve among the reformers in the face of continued decline in the churches’ vital statistics. While counter-examples might be advanced over the ‘borders’ between them, these three stages seem to this reviewer on the whole convincing and useful.

Finally, McLeod is able impressively to balance the analysis of motivation, with every heroic, conscious act of rebellion against the churches balanced with an act of omission born of forgetfulness or mundane inconvenience. There are vivid examples of the former here. In 1971 the feminist theologian Mary Daly descended from the pulpit to lead a procession of sisters out from the university chapel at Harvard in a highly symbolic act of renunciation: ‘our Exodus from sexist religion’ (p. 178). At the same time, chapter five lays out very effectively the processes by which rising affluence led to a good deal of simple forgetting to go to church. McLeod gives a most careful examination to the disputed effect of the ‘sexual revolution’ on women’s engagement with the churches. However, the study also draws out the gradual effects of home ownership, television sets in the home, Sunday sport for children, and an increased emphasis on companionate marriage, all of which provided reasons for the previously loosely committed to stay at home (pp. 169-75). Similarly, McLeod explores the several factors behind the crisis in ordinations to the Roman Catholic priesthood (pp. 189-97). Simple loss of faith, and principled objection to the reassertion of clerical celibacy and the renewed ban on artificial contraception are given due weight. However, evidence from the west of France suggests that the decline was in part due to the expansion of secondary education, meaning that a seminary education was no longer the most attractive option to young men of limited means. It is one of the great strengths of McLeod’s book that this interplay of the conscious and demonstrative with the inarticulate and accidental is kept in view throughout. To a significant degree, the west lost its religion in a fit of absence of mind.

In a summary account of complex and fast-developing change, readers may doubtless find one point or other which might have merited greater or lesser attention. For instance, this reviewer should have been most interested to read more about the parallels between the elevation of the arts to quasi-religious status in 19th-century Germany and the attention paid to ‘prophets’ such as Bob Dylan; a connection tantalisingly made, but not pursued, on p. 25. However, such minor points are merely testament to the range of this splendid study and its success in opening up new lines of enquiry. It is lucidly written, admirably concise and includes a daunting bibliography containing works in several languages and the most recent unpublished theses and seminar papers. Professor McLeod has produced a work that is likely to remain the starting point for new research into the period for many years, perhaps for a generation.

(1) The Guardian, 22 March 2008.
(2) Ritual Murder: Essays on Liturgical Reform, ed. B. Morris (Manchester, 1980).
(3) See, for instance, D. Holloway, A Nation Under God (Eastbourne, 1987)

Review: Archbishop Randall Davidson

Michael Hughes
Archbishop Randall Davidson
Abingdon, Routledge, 2017
978-1-4724-1866-1
vii + 230

[This review appeared a few weeks ago in Reviews in History.]

The series of volumes on the archbishops of Canterbury, which began life with Ashgate and has now passed to Routledge, reaches its eighth volume with that under review from Michael Hughes, which does not disappoint. Randall Davidson is the third of the twentieth century archbishops to be so treated (the 2015 volume on Michael Ramsey was the work of this reviewer), and the book adopts a similar approach to the others. The bulk of the book is taken up with a consideration of Davidson’s tenure as archbishop of Canterbury, which ran from 1903 until his retirement in 1928 at the age of 80. The final section of the book consists of selected primary sources, arranged and annotated to illustrate the themes of the first part of the book.

The volume makes no claim to be a biography of Davidson in the formal sense. George Bell, later bishop of Chichester, was chaplain to Davidson as Davidson himself was to A.C. Tait, and all students of Davidson labour under the shadow of Bell’s massive biography, which went through three editions between 1935 and 1952. Hughes wisely makes no attempt to replicate in 140 pages that which Bell detailed in 1,000 pages, but rightly observes (2-3) that Bell’s work is difficult to use by dint of its length; it is notably discreet about matters that are now usefully laid bare, and the Davidson that emerges from Bell’s account is coloured both by Bell’s closeness to the events described, and the part he himself played in some of them. By and large, as Hughes notes, Davidson has slipped from memory, including that of the Church of England itself (171), his reputation eclipsed by other figures such as William Temple or Michael Ramsey who appeared to make a more spectacular impact. The time is right for a fresh and concise assessment of Davidson as archbishop, which Hughes provides abundantly. Although Davidson seemed to have solved few problems and to have left few permanent monuments to himself in institutional form, Hughes shows that Davidson’s achievement in steering his church through turbulent times is one to be reckoned with. The book will be a useful starting point for studies of Davidson himself, and of the religious history of the period in general, and should be read by established scholars as well.

The introduction outlines Davidson’s progression to Lambeth Palace as a means of explicating his approach to the role. Like many bishops of the Church of England, he was first chaplain to the archbishop (in this case, A.C. Tait, between 1876 and 1883), a role something like a private secretary or executive assistant in other contexts, in which a young clergyman of promise could learn the inner workings of the bureaucracy. Next came six years as dean of Windsor, in which role Davidson became a close confidante of Queen Victoria. This was to continue as first he became bishop of Rochester, and then of Winchester (1895), in which diocese lay the royal residence of Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. These connections – with the Queen, with successive archbishops, and with the political class as they met in Parliament and in the gentlemen’s clubs of London – meant that when archbishop Frederick Temple died in office at the end of 1902, Davidson was the obvious choice to receive the nomination of Prime Minister Balfour. The word ‘courtier’ was used of him as the appointment was announced, and not kindly (p.29), but although the term captured something important of the circles in which he moved, it implied a subservience that Hughes shows was not characteristic of Davidson as archbishop.

In his 1971 survey of the archbishops of Canterbury, Edward Carpenter, dean of Westminster, described Davidson as ‘the last of the Victorians’. Hughes takes up this theme, which permeates the book: of Davidson as a Victorian figure confronted with great changes both within the Church of England and in the nation at large. Within the Church, Davidson had to deal with tensions between the Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical wings of the Church and the challenge of maintaining discipline, using the device of a Royal Commission to dampen down the heat generated by the issue of irregularity in public worship. Davidson was reluctant to create what became the 1922 Commission on Christian doctrine to investigate the issues raised by ‘Modernism’ in theology; he doubted that it could be constituted in a way that could command trust across the whole spectrum of opinion, and feared that the most likely result was greater discord rather than less. Hughes shows that although he could identify the issues that were at stake, Davidson was temperamentally incapable of grasping the depth of feeling that such questions provoked in others. Few accused Davidson of partisanship; rather more, indeed, wished for greater firmness and a clearer conviction. But there was a conviction in Davidson, despite what some thought: that most issues of controversy could be dealt with by calm, patient reasonable men if they were only able and prepared to set aside their own self-interest; there were few things worth fighting over. It was a remarkable achievement to have steered the revised Book of Common Prayer through the decision-making processes of the Church, given that (as Davidson himself noted) there were those ‘who have given their thoughts to the structure of a service which to many of them means more than anything else on earth.’ (158) However, Davidson’s shock when Parliament rejected the revised Book as a threat to Protestant England showed that, even if he could conceive intellectually that such feelings might exist, they were beyond him fully to understand.

This was not merely obtuseness or a failure of empathy on Davidson’s part, however. If it is legitimate to speak of Davidson as Victorian in his theology, it was in his faith that human understanding of Christian truth was progressive, unitary, and the product of consensus and goodwill. Generations of younger men than Davidson thought there were more fundamental issues at stake that needed to be named and pursued to a conclusion: for these, division was sometimes a necessary price to pay for truth. Davidson’s commitment to the comprehensiveness of the Church of England was a Realist one, in that he doubted that strong views on the definiteness of this or that issue were much more than hubris; the wise person knew that their own sense of truth was likely to be partial and fallible, and that they should act accordingly. (169)

What of the Church and the society and nation around it? Successive archbishops have intervened in national affairs to a greater or lesser extent, and Hughes’ account reveals Davidson as rather more reticent to appear ‘political’ than his successor William Temple (already bishop of Manchester from 1921), or Michael Ramsey rather later. He was most comfortable when intervening in matters that might be termed strictly ‘moral’, such as the broadening of the grounds for divorce in the Matrimonial Causes Bill of 1920 (139), or the use of poison gas or reprisals against civilian targets during the 1914-18 war. He was rather less prepared to commit himself publicly on other issues, such as women’s suffrage or foreign affairs. This was in part due to a reluctance to speak on issues of which he did not have a detailed knowledge, and the Church of England did not yet have staff whose role it was to formulate a position on this or that issue of the day (that structure was to be erected later). It was also partly because Davidson thought that to appear too ‘political’ was likely to damage the position of the Church; the Church’s influence was greatest in private, and the channels through which it might be exerted might well close to him should his public voice be too definite. Davidson thus tried to mediate in relation to Irish Home Rule, and offered to do the same during the coal strike of 1921. His fears were confirmed when he called for simultaneous concessions from both sides in the General Strike of 1926 and was vilified for his pains. More fundamentally, Davidson’s cast of mind was not systematic, not given to abstract analysis of social forces: if there were social problems, he tended to see them in terms of the failings of individuals which could be amended by persuasion and renewed personal effort. He was largely impervious to the more systematic analysis of social and economic systems that fired Temple and others exercised by the ‘social gospel’.

This pragmatic, concrete tendency in Davidson’s thought is most visible in his understanding of the relationship between church and state, which was thrown in such confusion during the Prayer Book Crisis. It would be too easy to dismiss Davidson as subservient, a mere member of the ‘Conservative party at prayer’ (to use the phrase of Maude Royden). In private, Davidson was often ready to press politicians on a moral course of action, and also to defend the interests of the Church itself against the state. As in the case of his support for the restraint of the House of Lords in the Parliament Act of 1911, he was wise enough to realise that it was not possible to hold out against all efforts at change. But his whole career was conditioned by an attachment to the place of the Church within the constitution. For Davidson, there was a givenness to the Establishment of the Church, based on his reading of the evolutionary character of English history; he thought it also of positive benefit to both church and state that they should be so related. But in 1927-8 the state, in the shape of the House of Commons, exercised what were undoubtedly its powers in law to override what was taken to be a tacit agreement that the Church should be in fact be independent in the matter of its worship. Davidson’s whole career had been spent in the quiet maintenance of a fine balance between the church and the state, based on tacit understandings developed over centuries. As Hughes notes, ‘such unwritten rules only had authority as long as they were acknowledged by those to whom they supposedly applied’ (163). Davidson was the ecclesiastical consensus politician par excellence. By the time he retired, such consensus was in short supply in British public life. Within weeks he had resigned.

All this is expertly described with concision, and no little elegance, and Hughes’ judgments are measured yet telling. It is no pleasure, however, to report that the transition of the series from Ashgate to Routledge has coincided with a marked reduction in the quality of the book as an object. The print quality is frankly poor and the increased amount of text on each page gives the whole a cramped feeling. Footnotes are placed at the end of each chapter, surely the least usable referencing method of the many available. All serious libraries for history and theology will wish to have a copy, which is just as well since the astonishing price of £105 surely puts the volume out of the reach of practically all individual readers, while others in the series have a paperback edition at a quarter of the price. This is a shame, since Michael Hughes’ fresh and convincing rendering of an important figure deserves a wide readership.

What is Anglicanism? A review essay

[This is an extended version of a review that appeared in Reading Religion, the review journal of the American Academy of Religion.]

Mark D. Chapman, Sathianathan Clarke, Martyn Percy (eds)
The Oxford Handbook of Anglican Studies
Oxford, OUP, 2016
ISBN:978-0-19-921856-1
Hardback, xiv + 657 pp

As the editors of The Oxford Handbook of Anglican Studies point out, the Anglican churches can draw on none of the kinds of criteria by which other Christian churches define themselves. In the case of Roman Catholicism, the model is juridical, the product of the authority of an institution; for Lutherans, it is confessional, the adoption of certain key statements of doctrine; for Baptists, it is sacramental practice. As a result, many studies such as those by Wolf, Booty and Thomas (1982), or Sykes and Booty (1988) have circled around the issue of how else Anglicanism may be defined.

The discipline of Anglican Studies has only been named in the last two decades, however, and at a time when the tensions within the Anglican Communion have reached a particular pitch. Launching the new Journal of Anglican Studies in 2003, Bruce Kaye (also a contributor here) wrote of ‘the challenge of construing the connecting profile of Anglicanism in its global form’, as parts of the Communion looked for solutions in global organizations within the existing structure predicated on particular convictions about theology and practice. These divisions came to a head at (or perhaps alongside) the Lambeth Conference of 2008, when a body of bishops absented themselves to meet separately in Jerusalem; so significant were the tensions, in fact, that the editors questioned the very viability of the Handbook (15). It is a cause for celebration that they persisted. Taken together, the 44 essays presented here are a rich and suggestive meditation on the past, present and likely futures of Anglicanism, and will be read with profit by scholar and non-specialist reader alike.

One of the signal virtues of the volume is its global scope. In 1988, all but one of the contributors to Sykes and Booty’s The Study of Anglicanism were from the British Isles or North America (the last being based in Switzerland); here, while the balance is still tipped in that direction, there is weighty representation from Africa, Australasia and Asia. Almost every contribution is at some level concerned with the legacy of establishment in England or the complex renegotiation required elsewhere in a post-colonial context. There are some omissions, however, most strikingly of the Anglican experience in Scotland, Ireland and Wales, two of which were churches that were first established and then disestablished: a perspective which it would have been valuable to hear.

Editors of volumes such as this are often hard put to create a structure that neatly compartmentalises the issues at hand, and this is no exception. Whilst the seven sections (on historiographies, methods and styles, contextualisation, identities, controversies, practices, and futures) provide some orientation, readers seeking the Anglican view of (say) the interpretation of the Bible will find work of interest in each of the sections and not simply the chapters by Gerald O. West and A. Katharine Grieb, the titles of which address the issue directly. A small but significant group of authors have not helped the editors in the task of achieving coherence by writing chapters that are not so much synoptic surveys of a particular topic as new work on a particular aspect of it: fine work in some cases, but an uncomfortable fit with the purposes of the volume. Others allow their focus on Anglicanism to waver, and needed a firmer editorial hand. Few readers will wish to read the volume from beginning to end (as this reviewer did), an experience which induces a sense of a continual and at times slightly fretful circling around the same two issues: past and present identity, and the prospects for unity.

Might that unity be found by means to a recourse to a shared history? The editors rightly place a fine essay by Alec Ryrie at the very beginning, in which many of the misreadings of the sixteenth century history of the Church of England are neatly dissected. The formation of ‘Anglicanism’, as a distinctive set of attitudes and theological methods, dates from a hundred years after the foundation of the Church of England, in which process figures such as Richard Hooker – marginal in his day – were moved to the centre, and figures such as William Perkins or Thomas Cartwright were marginalised despite being highly influential at the time. (That some readers may need to look these two figures up is an indication of how occluded they have become; neither appears anywhere else in this volume, and Perkins is re-christened Thomas in the index). Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics have disagreed profoundly over the early years of the Church of England, which makes the appeal to a normative past a problematic one to make.

Take for instance the issue of episcopacy. Ryrie again shows that although the Church of England was founded as an episcopal church, views differed widely as to the precise importance of the fact. Was episcopacy of the essence of the church, without which it could not exist (the position which several Anglo-Catholics have taken)? It was this principle that derailed the single most significant ecumenical scheme of the twentieth century in England, to reunify Anglicans and Methodists. Or, was episcopacy merely a convenient model of organisation, symbolically useful even, but something without which under different circumstances the Church might live? Chapters from Mark Chapman on missionary bishops, Kevin Ward on mission and Robert Bruce Mullin on the church in colonial America all show that, as a matter of historical fact, Anglicans have at times managed quite well without a fully fledged episcopal system. But other chapters make what is a common rhetorical slide from the historical to the normative, in this as in other matters. To paraphrase: ‘many Anglicans in the past have done some particular thing, and I (for reasons of theology) think that was right; these others who now do not do this are therefore not fully Anglican.’

Anglicans, then, have needed to look elsewhere for means of defining themselves, which have tended to cluster around elements of practice and habits of mind. The editors list a few of them: ‘hymns, poetry, prose, theology and spirituality’ (9-10), a ‘distinctive ethos’ which matches the many older attempts to find the ‘spirit’ of Anglicanism. Three chapters address these directly: Ann Loades on spirituality, Phyllis Tickle on prayer and the late Kenneth Stevenson (former bishop of Portsmouth) on aesthetics. Loades is detailed where Stevenson is allusive, but this reader emerges with a sense that Anglicans at certain times and places have indeed produced distinctive spiritual theology, hymnody and liturgy, but that these are weak markers of identity and of little use as instruments of unity. It is hard to avoid the impression that the search for identity in these places risks merely reifying the tastes and habits of mind of educated western Anglophones.

Anglicans have of course for a long time focussed on the ‘holy trinity’ of scripture, reason and tradition: a kind of self-definition by method. Formed of urgent necessity during the Reformation as a way of carving out space between the overweening pretensions of Rome and the bracing scripturalism of Geneva, in times of lesser pressure it became a rather more comforting formulation. Socially and economically secure as the established church of an imperial nation, it was relatively easy to rest on the idea of the Anglican via media, the essential moderateness of the English religious temperament. But the existential challenges to the very existence of the Communion in the last decade have caused this focus on theological approach to take on a rather darker tone. The question might be put: whose reason? Whose tradition? Whose reading of Scripture? As these questions have become harder to answer in a global context, the distinctive Anglican way of doing church has taken on a less confident and rather more provisional aspect.

Two aspects of this move are visible in the essays by Marion Grau and Jenny Gaffin. For Grau, Anglicanism as it has been transferred from England into colonial contexts can be thought of as a modus operandi, a rather accidental kind of pragmatism that over time became elevated to a virtue (177-8). Inculturation, the process by which theology and practice are inflected by local context, is made possible by a reliance on ‘a prevenient grace [and] an anthropology and ecclesiology that trusts in the residing of Spirit and Divinity within human existence’ (181). God has given His people sufficient resources with which to chart their path, and the action of God and his Spirit will not in the last instance allow the church to founder. Balancing this optimism is a line of thought that connects Gaffin to some of the recent work of Rowan Williams and (further back) to the Michael Ramsey of The Gospel and the Catholic Church (quoted by the editors in their introduction). The witness of Anglicanism is in pointing away from itself towards the larger church of which it is but a fragment: in Ramsey’s words ‘its credentials are its incompleteness, with the tension and travail of its soul. It is clumsy and untidy, it baffles neatness and logic.’ Its very brokenness is its witness.(14) In an age which values competence and ‘message discipline’, and seizes on weakness and holds it up to ridicule, the state of the Anglican Communion is both an affront and a challenge. Perhaps in the final instance the Communion is held together by a sense of a shared past, and an act of the will – a choice that must constantly be made anew – to continue together. The editors and contributors of this stimulating and fascinating handbook have given us a resource to help in the task of studying Anglicanism as its adherents have made and continue to make that choice. Though the price may stretch the budgets of private readers, no serious library for theology or history should be without it.