The Lambeth Palace Library annual review for 2016 details its new accessions and completed cataloguing, and as in previous years I pull out some highlights for the period since 1945. They include:
(i) amongst the papers of the archbishops, recently catalogued are papers from a series of meetings of the primates of the worldwide Anglican Communion, from 1981 (Washington, D.C), 1983 (Nairobi), 1986 (Toronto), Cyprus in 1989 and in Northern Ireland in 1991. There are also four meetings of the Anglican Consultative Council included in the series. Given the stresses in the Communion that have emerged into plain view in the 1990s and since, these papers will be key to understanding the pre-history of those disputes.
(ii) also catalogued are papers from the second phase of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) beginning in 1983, as are papers for the Roman Catholic section of the Council on Foreign Relations;
(iii) the CFR papers relating to the Russian Orthodox church are now also catalogued, covering the period from 1931 to 1981;
(iii) as a biographer, also of particular interest to me is a file of correspondence between Robert Runcie and the author of a rather indiscreet biography of him, Humphrey Carpenter; the book caused a minor sensation, much to Runcie’s discomfort.
(v) scholars of Anglican evangelicalism will be very grateful to see the completed cataloguing of the papers of Michael Harper, ecumenist and leading figure in the charismatic movement. The papers extend from 1961 to 2003.
As in previous years, a little round-up of newly available resources at Lambeth for historians of the twentieth century, derived as usual from the Annual Review, this time for 2014.
The cataloguing of the main run of Archbishops’ Papers has reached 1984, a year which sees Robert Runcie having to deal with the controversial appointment of David Jenkins as bishop of Durham, and the miners’ strike.
Of particular interest to me are the newly catalogued papers of the Council for Foreign Relations dealing with relations with Roman Catholics in the UK (CFR RC 161-193), from the immediate post-war period until the 1980s. Also from the CFR are the papers relating to Lutheran and Reformed church overseas for the key period from 1933 until 1981. Both the series complement my own work on Michael Ramsey.
For historians of evangelicalism, the cataloguing of the papers of John Stott is also complete, including a substantial amount of printed material.
A recent arrival on the doormat was the annual review of Lambeth Palace Library. It includes as always a digest of recent accessions and completed cataloguing, and here are some of the highlights for historians of the period since 1945.
The rolling cataloguing of the papers of the archbishops continues, under the usual thirty-year rule, with those for Robert Runcie now available for 1982. These include papers relating to the famous sermon of July 1982 at the Falkland Island Service, and for the visit of Pope John Paul II. Also available are the collected speeches and sermons of George Carey, some thousand or more of them.
Particularly interesting in connection with Michael Ramsey are the papers of the Church of England’s diplomatic arm, the Council on Foreign Relations, as they relate to the Roman Catholic church. There is material here on Ramsey’s visit to Rome in 1966, the vexed issue of ‘mixed marriages’ and the canonisation by the Pope of forty English and Welsh martyrs of the Reformation period, which Ramsey thought an ecumenical disaster, and against which he pressed in public and in private.
Also available are the papers of the prominent member of the Church Assembly George Goyder, as well as those of Garth Moore, canonist, cleric and academic lawyer, who was prominent in many of the complex legal changes in relation to church and state and the ecumenical movement in Ramsey’s time at Lambeth.
Other highlights are the paper of Hugh Montefiore, bishop of Birmingham; and the records of Robert Runcie’s Commission on Urban Affairs, which produced the controversial and still significant report Faith in the City, which endeared the church to Mrs Thatcher about as much as the Falklands sermon did.
The archives and manuscripts catalogue is available here.
As Mrs Thatcher passed away last week, I wonder how long it will be before we can reach a sensible assessment of her career. When teaching students born in John Major’s Britain, I used to struggle to bring alive to them quite how divisive a figure she was, and how much visceral emotion about her person has lived on in our political subconscious as a nation. The loathing that some felt for all that she stood for was brought home to me by the spontaneous laughter, tinged with relief and the cathartic release of repressed bitterness, that I overheard the day the news broke. And so for historians of my generation, who came to political consciousness when she was Prime Minister, there is considerable work to be done in shedding that baggage, in order to be able to look at her legacy in the cold, hard light.
This also applies to the work needed to assess her Christianity. And work we must, if only because much of the comment from Christian voices has threatened to obscure the very real debate we need to have about whether Thatcherism ought to be retrospectively glossed as more or less ‘Christian’ at all.
Colin Bloom of the Conservative Christian Fellowship thought that ‘history will show that she, more than any other British prime minister of the past 60 years, changed our nation for the better.’ (1) George Carey, who was archbishop during the later part of her time, admitted that whilst there were divisions in opinion over specific policies, overall ‘as I look back now I think her instincts were absolutely right.’ The new Pope referred to the ‘Christian values which underpinned her commitment to public service and to the promotion of freedom among the family of nations.'(3)
Perhaps the wiser course would have been to have remained as agnostic as Vincent Nicholls, who simply expressed a humane concern for a grieving family, since there are surely an equally significant number of Christians whose immediate feeling is that her instincts were in many respects wrong, and perhaps actively inimical to the cause of the gospel. Bishop John Packer, who had been working in Doncaster during her time in office, sounded a much more equivocal note on Radio 4’s Sunday programme, as did Giles Fraser in the Guardian. Although no Christian herself, Glenda Jackson made a revealing choice of terms when telling Parliament (Hansard, cols 1649-50) about ‘the most heinous social, economic and spiritual damage …. We were told that everything I had been taught to regard as a vice—and I still regard them as vices—was, in fact, under Thatcherism, a virtue: greed, selfishness, no care for the weaker, sharp elbows, sharp knees..’
Some elements of the question are clear. That she personally professed a strong and consistent faith is hard to dispute. That she was theologically literate is evident from the famous ‘Sermon on the Mound‘ given to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1988. There is interesting scholarly work that re-emphasises the importance of her understanding of theology as formative to her work, such as that by Liza Filby and Antonio Weiss. John Milbank‘s recent intervention should also be required reading.
After that, we lack agreed points of reference to begin to have a sensible conversation about her. Values central to her rhetoric, such as thrift, self-discipline, industry and self-reliance are all traditionally associated with Conservatism, but have also been at times claimed by Christian socialism. Or what of the ‘socialist’ values of communal aid, concern for the poor and the sending of the rich empty away; all of which have equally well been seen by Christians not as the duty of the state, but of the individual, or the ‘Big Society’ at local level ? The longer-range history of British politics shows that no political party ever managed to command the loyalty of a majority of Christians, as does the failure of avowedly Christian parties. Those principles often seen as Christian have continued to evade political capture of this sort.
I have no answers; and I suspect it is too early to make sense of the religious elements of Thatcherism as history. At the very least we need access to key sources, such as the majority of her official papers which are still closed, as well as those of Robert Runcie and Carey at Lambeth Palace. In the meantime, commentators on both left and right should probably stop trying to assess a political program in terms of its Christian content or lack of it. The debate is stale, and gets us nowhere.