Tag Archives: Church of England

“‘Settling the Peace of the Church': 1662 Revisited” (Keeble, ed.)

In December, Oxford University Press will release “‘Settling the Peace of the Church': 1662 Revisited”  edited by N. H. Keeble (University of Stirling). The publisher’s description follows:

The 1662 Act of Uniformity and the consequent “ejections” on August 24 (St. Bartholomew’s Day) of those who refused to comply with its stringent conditions comprise perhaps the single most significant episode in post-Reformation English religious history. Intended, in its own words, “to settle the peace of the church” by banishing dissent and outlawing Puritan opinion it instead led to penal religious legislation and persecution, vituperative controversy, and repeated attempts to diversify the religious life of the nation until, with the Toleration Act of 1689, its aspiration was finally abandoned and the freedom of the individual conscience and the right to dissent were, within limits, legally recognised. Bartholomew Day was hence, unintentionally but momentously, the first step towards today’s pluralist and multicultural society.

This volume brings together nine original essays which on the basis of new research examine afresh the nature and occasion of the Act, its repercussions and consequences and the competing ways in which its effects were shaped in public memory. A substantial introduction sets out the historical context. The result is an interdisciplinary volume which avoids partisanship to engage with episcopalian, nonconformist, and separatist perspectives; it understands “English” history as part of “British” history, taking in the Scottish and Irish experience; it recognises the importance of European and transatlantic relations by including the Netherlands and New England in its scope; and it engages with literary history in its discussions of the memorialisation of these events in autobiography, memoirs, and historiography. This collection constitutes the most wide-ranging and sustained discussion of this episode for fifty years.

Where the Queen Prays in Scotland

crathie2

Crathie Kirk

As everyone knows, Scotland votes tomorrow on whether to remain part of the United Kingdom. In Scotland last Sunday, Queen Elizabeth made a statement most have interpreted as a commentary on the situation. Scots should think very carefully about the future, she said.

I’m sure the Queen meant that Scots should vote “No.” How could she have meant otherwise? What interests me, though, is that she made the statement after services at Crathie Kirk, a parish of the Church of Scotland. In fact, she regularly worships at Crathie Kirk when she’s in Scotland, at her Balmoral estate.

Now, Queen Elizabeth is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican communion. The Church of Scotland is not Anglican, but Presbyterian. Relations between the two churches are cordial (though they have not always been so), but the Queen is not a Presbyterian. She’s an Anglican. So why does she regularly worship in the Scottish Kirk? Are there no Church of England parishes near Balmoral? Couldn’t she fly in a vicar from London?

As far as I can tell, this arrangement is one of those historical accommodations that have ripened into custom. The Treaty of Union of 1707 — the treaty Scots may overturn tomorrow — requires the British Monarch to preserve the Church of Scotland. The Monarch takes an oath to that effect upon accession to the throne. Sometimes the Monarch attends meetings of the Church’s General Assembly. Usually she sends a representative.

It’s thus quite natural for British Monarchs to feel that, whatever their official role in the Church of England, they have a place in the Church of Scotland as well. In the nineteenth century, Queen Victoria caused a scandal when she received communion in the Church of Scotland, but she maintained that as the country’s — that is, Scotland’s — Queen, she had every right to do so. Since then, every reigning Monarch has worshiped at Crathie Kirk.

So, there it is. In England, the Monarch is an Anglican; in Scotland, she prays with the Presbyterians. How very British. I mean that in a good way, and I use the term advisedly. After tomorrow, it may mean something else.

Richard Hooker and the “Wall of Separation”

Richard Hooker was a learned Anglican churchman and apologist writing in theRichard Hooker sixteenth century. His monumental work, “Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity,” is a wonderfully interesting but grossly neglected treatment of the relationship of church and state in England. Its subtle defense of both the distinctiveness and the non-separateness of church and state represents an early and elegant version of many of the arguments about the nature and scope of disestablishment that continue to circulate today.

In the following passage (from Book VIII), he defends the idea of the distinctiveness, but non-separateness, of the civil and religious spheres against the complaints of English dissenters. He resists what he calls the idea of “personal” separation. Note the particular phrase he uses!

We hold, that seeing there is not any man of the Church of England but the same man is also a member of the commonwealth; nor any man a member of the commonwealth, which is not also of the Church of England; therefore as in a figure triangular the base doth differ from the sides thereof, and yet one and the selfsame line is both a base and also a side; a side simply, a base if it chance to be the bottom and underlie the rest: so, albeit properties and actions of one kind do cause the name of a commonwealth, qualities and functions of another sort the name of a Church to be given unto a multitude, yet one and the selfsame multitude may in such sort be both, and is so with us, that no person appertaining to the one can be denied to be also of the other. Contrariwise, unless they against us should hold, that the Church and the commonwealth are two, both distinct and separate societies, of which two, the one comprehendeth always persons not belonging to the other; that which they do they could not conclude out of the difference between the Church and the commonwealth; namely, that bishops may not meddle with the affairs of the commonwealth, because they are governors of another corporation, which is the Church; nor kings with making laws for the Church, because they have government not of this corporation, but of another divided from it, the commonwealth; and the walls of separation between these two must for ever be upheld. They hold the necessity of personal separation, which clean excludeth the power of one man’s dealing in both; we of natural, which doth not hinder but that one and the same person may in both bear a principal sway.

Those with an interest in Hooker should check out this new review at the University Bookman by W. Bradford Littlejohn of a new edition of Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (in 3 volumes!), edited by Arthur Stephen McGrade. From Littlejohn’s review:

Here Hooker undertakes a systematic defense of the established polity of the English church against its puritan-presbyterian critics, laying broad and deep foundations in philosophy, theology, and political theory before meeting head-on the leading principles of the puritan platform and then refuting, point-by-point, their objections against each aspect of the English church’s worship and organization.

The Preface, in addition to expressing the purpose for the work, provides a keen analysis of the social circumstances that called it forth. Book I provides a theological and philosophical account of the different forms of law that govern human affairs. Book II critically examines the biblicist foundation of puritan epistemology, Book III the puritan assumption of a divine-law constitution for the church, and Book IV their first principle of liturgics: to depart as far as possible from Roman Catholicism. With these foundations laid, Hooker uses Book V to defend the disputed parts of the Book of Common Prayer, Book VI (unfinished) to critique the presbyterian doctrine of lay-elders, Book VII to defend episcopal jurisdiction, and the unfinished Book VIII to defend (and just as importantly, to define and delimit) the royal supremacy in the English church.

Until My Dying Day, Sir

John McGinnis passes along this delightful old recording of an 18th Century ballad about a pliable priest, The Vicar of Bray. Some of you, particularly readers in the UK, may already know the song. It concerns an Anglican clergyman who manages to survive the shifting religious commitments of the Stuart and Hanoverian dynasties by remaining loyal to one, overarching principle: keeping his job.

Under James II, for example, the vicar is a committed Catholic:

When royal James possessed the Crown, and popery came in fashion,
The penal laws I hooted down, and read the Declaration.
The Church of Rome, I found, did fit full well my constitution
And I had been a Jesuit, but for the Revolution.

He switches allegiance after the Glorious Revolution, though, to become a Protestant; then an arch, High Church Tory under Queen Anne; then he switches again under George I:

When George in pudding time came o’er, and moderate men looked big, sir 
My principles I changed once more, and I became a Whig, sir
And thus preferment I procured from our new Faith’s Defender,
And almost every day abjured the Pope and the Pretender.

 And there he plans to stay—for now:

The illustrious House of Hanover and Protestant succession
To these I do allegiance swear – while they can hold possession.
For in my faith and loyalty I never more will falter,
And George my lawful king shall be – until the times do alter.

 No matter what, the refrain declares,

And this is law, that I’ll maintain,
Until my dying day, Sir,
That whatsoever king may reign,
Still I’ll be the Vicar of Bray, Sir.

The vicar of the song was apparently a real person. In a lovely essay, A Good Word for the Vicar of Bray, George Orwell wrote of seeing a yew tree he had planted in a Berkshire churchyard–more of this in a bit. Down the centuries, the vicar has been a byword for opportunism and lack of scruple, especially religious scruple. Perhaps the American Framers knew his song, which illustrates well the corruption of established churches. Not that lack of scruple is unique to clergy in established churches. I’ve heard that even professors can act like careerists on occasion.

Now that time has passed, I wonder if we shouldn’t lighten up on the vicar. Aren’t his tergiversations somewhat forgivable? Sure, you can see him as a hypocrite. But on another view, he’s a charming rogue, a man who uses his wits to navigate what he recognizes to be silly, but quite dangerous, quarrels. After all, who today takes seriously the controversies of the Stuarts? Only historians still get most of the song’s references. Wasn’t the vicar wise to avoid strong positions on matters that ultimately counted for little? One might even see him as an ecumenist, someone willing to compromise on doubtful points to maintain harmony in the church.

It’s a stretch to see the vicar as a sympathetic figure, I know. But, as Orwell pointed out, the vicar did inspire a comic song that still entertains after centuries, and he did plant that tree in the Berkshire churchyard, which gave rest to generations of tired souls. Surely those things count for something. Indeed, Orwell reflected,

It might not be a bad idea, every time you commit an antisocial act, to make a note of it in your diary, and then, at the appropriate season, push an acorn into the ground. And, if even one in twenty of them came to maturity, you might do quite a lot of harm in your lifetime, and still, like the Vicar of Bray, end up as a public benefactor after all.

It’s winter here in New York just now. Come spring, I’m going to start planting trees.

Religious Division and Identity – Richard III and the Rest of Us – Part III

In Part I of this case study of sorts, I wrote a bit about the theological complexity of debates over religious identity, as illustrated by the (very) minor fracas over whether it be somehow wrong to reinter the bones of Richard III in an Anglican rather than a Catholic ceremony.  In Part II, I asked how historians might look at the question of whether Richard was a “Catholic” in our sense of the word, or even whether they would reject the question as too vague or even meaningless.

I’ve suggested that theologians and historians will look at these sorts of problems through different lenses.  But do they also have something to say to each other?  This is a much larger question than I can try to tackle in a blog.  But I’ve been thinking a good deal about the problem of religion and history in my study of the jurisprudence of Jewish law (which I hope to discuss later this month), so let me at least throw out one tiny observation here, focusing again on Richard III.

First a distinction — between history and historical consciousness.  Historical consciousness is the distinctly modern conviction that history is not just a chronicle of events.  The past is actually a very different place than the present, and those differences are deeply bound up in specific context and assumptions and world views.  History is important to intelligent thinking about current religious belief and practice, but historical consciousness necessarily frustrates any effort to easy easy, straightforward, conclusions from that history.

So back to Richard III.  Assume for a moment that the authorities did decide to hand the King over for a Catholic funeral service.  Some Catholics of a “traditionalist” bent — the supporters of the traditional Latin Mass (one version of which Pope Benedict XVI dubbed the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite) — have argued that it’s not good enough for Richard III to be given a Catholic service.  As a pre-Vatican II Catholic (by many centuries), he should merit a traditional Latin requiem mass.  And, as an anointed King, he really deserves the special traditional service for the burial of a King.  That is, after all, what he would expect and want if he had a say in the matter.

The problem here is obvious, though.   Continue reading

Religious Division and Identity – Richard III and the Rest of Us – Part II

Thanks again to Mark and Marc for inviting me to guest blog this month.  I hope to use this opportunity to think about a range of questions, and also introduce a bit of my own work.

Back in August, I posted Part I of some mediations on religious division prompted by the minor kerfuffle over whether the newly-discovered remains of Richard III should be reinterred in a Catholic or an Anglican ceremony.  That post looked at the question from a bit of a theological lens. I want now to say a bit about the same problem from the perspectives of history.  (I’ll have one or two more parts to this discussion, so stay tuned.)

So let’s go back to our test case: Was Richard III a “Catholic” in the modern sense of the word that would exclude his membership in the “Church of England”?  For that matter, is the contemporary Church of England in some meaningful sense Catholic and not merely catholic?

Historians, I think, would resist these questions from the get-go. For one thing, they would want to be more contextual and specific.  There is no one answer to the religious identity of either Richard III or the contemporary Church of England.  Are we talking about formal belief structures, lived spiritual premises, personal devotion, liturgical practices, institutional relations, personal networks, political allegiances, or something else?  How does the civil war that Richard fought and lost figure into the equation, if at all?  What about the radically different technology of the time, with its implications for travel and communication?  What about the long, complex, and often violent history of relations between King and clergy that long predated Henry VIII’s split from Rome?  How would Richard III himself have understood the question?  Would he have understood it?

For that matter, historians might find the question too essentialist to begin with.  Yes, categories such as “Catholic” are real and important.  But time is change.  Richard III could not be “Catholic” in the sense we understand the term because nobody in his time – before the Reformation, the Enlightenment, England’s split from Rome, the rise of secularism, and for that matter the advent of modern forms of communication and transportation – was “Catholic” in the sense we understand the term.

All this interests me, not because I’m a historian, but because the question of historical consciousness (and its limits) strikes me as deeply important to all sorts of other puzzles and challenges I’ll be taking up this month.

For now, though, I will leave to the next post or two some thoughts about the possible further theological implications of what I’ve just said about history to the fate of poor Richard III and about how law (this is a law blog, after all) fits into all this, both specifically and more generally.

Religious Division and Identity – Richard III and the Rest of Us – Part I

Thanks to Mark Movsesian for inviting me to guest blog here.  I’ll mainly be posting in October, but here’s a down payment inspired by Mark’s entry about the decision to re-inter the recently-discovered remains of King Richard III in Leicester’s Anglican Cathedral rather than give him a Catholic burial.  The Catholic bishop of Nottingham  has approved the plan, and Mark’s post was appropriately relaxed, even tongue-in-cheek, about the whole thing.  But some Catholic commentators are genuinely upset.  They argue that Richard was Catholic, not Anglican, and deserves a Catholic ceremony.  They insist that, for that matter, the Anglican Church didn’t even exist when Richard died.

Fights over long-dead bodies, famous or not, are often both religiously fraught and emotional.  Consider the efforts of American Indian tribes, bolstered by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) of 1990, to reclaim remains that have ended up in museum collections.  But they can also implicate deeper issues about religious identity and continuity — questions that end up involving theology, history, and law.  For example, are prehistoric remains, such as those of Kenwick Man, genuinely the patrimony of modern native tribes?  The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit famously said no.

Back to Richard III, though.  Many Anglicans would deny that Richard III was “Catholic” in the limited contemporary sense of the word that would exclude his membership in the “Church of England.”  The simple reason is that Anglicans claim a direct line back from their Church to the Church to which Richard belonged.  As the COE’s website puts it, “The roots of the Church of England go back to the time of the Roman Empire when Christianity entered the Roman province of Britain. Through the influences of St Alban, St Illtud, St Ninian, St Patrick and, later, St Augustine, St Aidan and St Cuthbert, the Church of England developed, acknowledging the authority of the Pope until the Reformation in the 16th century.”  Thus, Henry VIII might have split the English Church from Rome, but he did not create it anew.  To be sure, Catholics have a different view. But neither position is self-evident by sheer definition.

Continue reading

No Catholic Burial for Richard III

I imagine some of our readers already know this, but here’s a follow up on a story we covered earlier this year. In February, archaeologists confirmed that they had discovered the remains of King Richard III beneath a parking lot in Leicester. Richard died in battle at Bosworth Field in August 1485; the Tudor victors gave him a rather unceremonious burial in what was then a local abbey. Richard will now be re-interred in Leicester’s Anglican cathedral, most likely next May. Back in February, some Catholics objected that Richard, who was Catholic, should by rights be buried in a Catholic ceremony in a Catholic sanctuary. According to the Law and Religion UK blog, however, the Catholic Church in the UK will not insist. The Catholic Bishop of Nottingham states:

The Bishop is pleased that the body of King Richard III has been found under the site of Greyfriars Church in Leicester, in which it was buried following the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, and that it will be reinterred with dignity in the city where he has lain for over five hundred years. Richard III was one of the last Catholic monarchs of England and his death was a decisive moment in British history, but the ultimate decision as to what form the interment takes lies with the Government and the Church of England, since he will be buried in Leicester Cathedral. In accordance with long-established ecumenical practice, Bishop Malcolm will be happy to take part in any form of ceremony which takes place to mark his final burial.

A little hard to follow, but the meaning seems to be, as the government has already decided to bury Richard in the Church of England, the government can also decide on the ceremony. So that’s that. The event will surely be less tense than Richard’s coronation. But will they serve strawberries at the reception?

Good-Bye to All That?

A report in last week’s Telegraph suggests that British Christianity is declining more rapidly than previously understood. Initial reports about the 2011 census showed the number of people in England and Wales who describe themselves as Christians had fallen by 10 percent since 2001. But it turns out those figures included Christian immigrants, such as Polish Catholics and African Pentecostals. When one looks only at the native born, the percentage of people who describe themselves as Christians has fallen by an even greater amount–by 15% in the space of one decade. The decline is particularly pronounced among the young. At this rate, the Telegraph predicts, Christianity could become a minority religion in Britain within the next decade.

These numbers have worrisome implications for the future of the Established Church. In a country where only a minority is willing to describe itself as Christian, what would be the basis for maintaining state Christianity? A spokesman for the Church of England admits the census numbers present a challenge, but notes that recent attendance figures have been stable, and that the committed core “of the faithful remains firm.” Maybe so, but state churches, almost by definition, need to draw support from society as a whole, not only the people who attend every Sunday. Perhaps those respondents who said they weren’t Christians nonetheless think the established church serves a useful social function and want it to endure. But maybe not.

Should Richard III Receive a Catholic Burial?

You thought there couldn’t be a law and religion angle to today’s news–fascinating for us history nerds–that archaeologists have discovered the mortal remains of Richard III beneath a parking lot in Leicester? Think again. Plans are underway to re-inter the bones in the city’s Anglican Cathedral. Not so fast, say some: the hunchback king wasn’t a Protestant, but a Catholic, and he requires a Catholic burial. In fact, as Shakespeare fans know, Richard died at Bosworth Field (“A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”), defending his throne from Henry Tudor. Henry went on to reign as Henry VII;  his son, Henry VIII, broke with Rome. As The Tablet’s blog argued this morning, “Had Richard prevailed at the Battle of Bosworth Field, there would have been no Henry VII, therefore no Henry VIII and no Reformation. England today might still be a Catholic country.” Think of it: no Reformation, no Established Church, no Archbishop Laud, no Puritans, no Great Migration — no Massachusetts! — and no Establishment Clause. Surely there’s a law review article in there somewhere.

Leicester Cathedral seems to know it’s facing a sensitive situation. A Catholic priest is keeping watch over Richard’s remains (as is an Anglican, I believe), and the cathedral is planning a “multifaith” burial ceremony. Personally, I’m not sure why English Catholics are so keen to claim Richard, anyway. They must be forgetting the nephews in the Tower.