Who Governs the Church of England?

Today the Church of England General Synod will take a historic vote on the question of women bishops. The vote will be very close. Although it is thought that most people are in favor of women bishops, there are enough opposed to make the success of the measure in doubt.

What interests me is that a article in the Daily Telegraph reports that the latest pressure from those in favor is warning of the consequences to the Church of England of a negative vote. The privileged position of the Church of England as the established church will be in doubt–say those waving the warning flags. “Should the Church of England vote against the equality of women they should no longer be the established church!” say those in parliament and civil society who see the whole debate in terms of equal rights. Going further, some members of parliament are suggesting that if the Church of England votes against women bishops then they will put legislation through which removes the religious exemptions from civil laws which prohibit sex discrimination in the workplace.

In other words from the lawmakers: “If you don’t vote for women bishops we’ll make you have women bishops anyway.” The ramifications of such legislation are truly astounding. We would have a direct assault on religious liberty by the UK Parliament, and the legislation which removes the religious exemption from sexual discrimination legislation would invariably apply not only to the Church of England, but to every other religious body as well. They would also be saying to the Catholic Church, “We’re sorry, but this male only priesthood thing? It’s time we wrap it up. You will have women priests. It’s the law of the land.”

The ironic thing about this is that it will have come about precisely because the Church of England is the established church. If the Church of England were not the established church–ultimately ruled by Her Majesty’s government–then the parliament would have far less power over the Church of England. As it stands, the Prime Minister selects the bishops, and all legislation produced by the General Synod has to be rubber stamped by Parliament. The Church of England is an erastian church and has been since her foundation by the wicked king Henry VIII and his odious daughter, the murderous Elizabeth I. It has, since it’s inception, been a servant to the king of England instead of the King of the Universe.

One of the books I’m dipping into at the moment is Dave Armstrong’s excellent anthology of Bl. John Henry Newman’s writings. Called The Quotable Newman, it’s published by Sophia Institute Press. So Newman–ever prescient and prophetic wrote in a private letter in 1884:

I left the Anglican Church because I could not believe it was a portion of that Catholic body which the Apostles founded and to which the promises are made….from first to last I had had the clear conviction…that the Church of England is a Parliamentary Church.

A “Parliamentary Church”. Indeed. And that unholy alliance between secular power and spiritual power has always, at last undone the Church. It has done so for the Catholic Church whenever she has got into bed with worldly princes, and it will do so now for the Anglican Church.

Leaving Newman with the last word:

The Anglican Church is a mere collection of men, a national body, a human society I would be the most asinine, as well as the most ungrateful of men if I left the Gracious Lord who manifests himself in the Catholic Church for those wearisome Protestant shadows out of which his mercy has delivered me.


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  • John

    Those Newman quotes cut right to the heart of the matter, don’t they?

    In the aftermath of our Stateside election debacle, I’ve wondered out loud to friends if, following on the heels of the HHS mandates triumph, Democrat lawmakers will decide that it’s time to impose same sex “marriage” on religious institutions. To wit:

    Gay Rights are the civil rights struggle of our time. It is immoral, and therefore ought to be illegal, to deny homosexuals rights enjoyed by so-called “straight” people. Therefore, legislation will be introduced that will impose penalties (revocation of tax-exempt status, jail time, etc) for those institutions that refuse to wed same-sex couples. Religious institutions that continue to deny same-sex marriage rights will not have their “marriages” recognized by civil authorities, and “straight” couples who are “married” in such hateful institutions will be denied state marriage licenses.

    Everyone should be equal under the law, the argument will go. Those that do not toe the line will be summarily punished.

    The beatings will continue until morale improves.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      You have foreseen the future.

      • Sus

        I don’t think churches will be forced to marry gay couples. Isn’t it up to the priest whether they want to marry a couple now? A priest declined to marry my husband and me 18 years ago because I wasn’t a Catholic and didn’t have plans to convert. We got another priest. Wouldn’t the same rules apply?
        At the time I was very confused because I couldn’t figure out why one priest would follow a rule and another wouldn’t. In any case, I was grateful to the priest that married us.

  • H R Bendelow

    You forgot to mention Queen Mary I the even more murderous sister of Elizabeth I .
    Regards, H R Bendelow

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Historians have concluded that the two ugly sisters had killed about the same number of their religious opponents, but when you add in the fines, deprivations of property, imprisonments and torture Elizabeth is the far more cruel and ruthless tyrant.

      • Aunt Raven

        Well, they were their father’s daughters !

  • Chris

    Fr D, no doubt you are aware of this but there is already precedence for interference by the State in the workings of the Church of England.
    This snippet is from a paper I wrote last year: “In 1850, [Henry Edward] Manning’s faith in Anglicanism was shattered by a ruling of the Privy Council [at the time the most powerful body in England] which ordered that an Anglican cleric, George Gorham, be appointed to an ecclesial position he desired, and which had been denied to him. The niceties (or otherwise) of the Gorham dispute are beyond the scope of this paper, suffice to say that Gorham’s understanding of the effects of Baptism amounted to probable heresy or at the very least were at variance with Anglican dogma. Manning realised that the Privy Council, by ordering the appointment of Gorham and thus the acceptance of a heretical doctrine, were effectively ruling that the Anglican Church was nothing more than a creation of Parliament and certainly not a divinely created institution. In 1851 Manning was received into the Catholic Church and was ordained priest in June of that year.”
    More information on the Gorham case is at [URL]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gorham_judgement[\URL]. Strachey’s “Eminent Victorians”, which is out of copyright and can be found online is a good source for information on Manning’s life.

    • Peter Brown

      Chris, you could go a lot farther back than 1850. The Church of England *is*, and has been from its beginning, an interference by the State in the workings of the Church. The Act of Supremacy did not originate with the Church, but with the State. Ditto the Elizabethan Settlement. Charles I lost his head at least partly because the Puritans rejected the church of which Charles was head; both the restoration of 1660 and the revolution of 1688 were largely-successful attempts to maintain the primacy of the State in the religious affairs of England. The flexibility that is a hallmark of Anglican theology developed as an adaptation to the Vicar of Bray’s dilemma: Anglicans (those in Great Britain, at least) have always been free to proclaim and to practice Christianity precisely in so far as that life and witness does not go too far to threaten the interests of the English State. This has been true whether the State is monarchical (as it was in the days of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I) or parliamentary (as in Newman’s day and our own).

      The interesting question here, really, is not *whether* the State will interfere with the workings of the Church of England. The State’s been doing that since 1535. The interesting question, rather, is exactly *when and how* the State will feel the need to do so, and how the Christians now in the Church of England will respond when that happens.


  • http://socrates58.blogspot.com/ Dave Armstrong

    Bloody Queen Bess has no record to be proud of, with at least 312 known Catholic martyrs during her reign:


  • http://remnantofremnant.blogspot.com priest’s wife (@byzcathwife)

    What are the theological arguments against women bishops if they have determined (I suppose, theologically) that women can be priests? This shouldn’t be a question for the Church of England. so….come back to Rome!

  • http://thewayoutthere1.blogspot.com/ Fr Levi

    There is very little theology in this debate. It is mostly about the ‘right’ of women to be bishops & how terrible it will look to those outside the CofE if the measure doesn’t pass … which makes it sound like a PR exercise.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      The Church of England IS a PR exercise…

  • pelerin

    They have voted against. Until the next time that is.

  • flyingvic

    “As it stands, the Prime Minister selects the bishops. . .”

    Now, now, Father; this is barely even a half-truth. The Church passes two names to the Prime Minister, and it is understood that the first name is the preferred candidate. Indeed, almost without exception the Prime Minister does accept the first-named candidate – in effect, therefore, his is a rubber-stamping of the Church’s choice, not a ‘selection’ of his own.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      I think Margaret Thatcher chose the second on the list. George Carey was called “Thatcher’s Revenge”

    • Lago1

      “Now, now, Father; this is barely even a half-truth.”

      it is the full truth. Yes, the prime minister is presented with a shortlist of two names but he not only CHOOSES between the two but he can also reject them both and do so until they come back with the right name. And when it comes to an Archbiship, the chairman of the commission who prepares the shortlist is himself appointed by the prime minister.

      Just because the prime minister rarely rejects the “preferred” option does not mean he has no choice. It simply means that the bureaucracy works very well in shortlisting candidates acceptable to the prime minister first time around.

  • http://www.thecatholicbeat.com Gail Finke

    People who say “The government will never… (mandate women priests, mandate women bishops, make priests or ministers marry same-sex couples)” have their heads in the sand. Governments are not doing similar things now because they have not been challenged to do so, and have not been driven by the ideology to do so. But they are beginning to be. Once the argument that anyone should be able to marry anyone has been accepted by enough people in a government, marriage will come under the same laws that govern all other “services” — you must serve everyone equally. ie, you can marry no one, or you can marry anyone, but you cannot pick and choose because that is discriminatory. This is the mindset of a certain vocal and willing-to-sue population. Right now man-women couples who are refused marriage by one priest or minister go elsewhere, they don’t sue the priest or minister. But if you think those suits aren’t coming, you’re fooling yourself. IT’s time to look at things as they are, not as they used to be. If you don’t, you can’t fight them.

  • Dean

    Reminds me of “The Bishop’s Gambit” from the show “Yes, Prime Minister”.

    Some quotes from the show http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0751836/quotes

  • M

    Good article. I was an Anglican until 2 years ago, then went back to my Reformed roots, though in a different denomination as I had moved location. I left Anglicanism for several reasons, including the way in which women’s ministry was handled – a gateway to LGBT affirmation, and the fact that the Church of England is deliberately disunited over theology. I realised there were two choices, practically speaking, for me – Rome or the free churches. In my time as a lay theologian and supporting healing ministries, it became clear that mainline denominations support the ordination of women not because of theological reasoning so much as wanting to be ‘in’ with the state. Historically women have often been very prominent in ministries of healing, prayer, missions, etc. These are the sorts of things that are pooh-poohed by the ambitious admin types who have pushed for women bishops. I knew as a a woman that my interests would never be truly supported, and I know this from having read Leanne Payne’s autobiography. Anybody who really wants to understand the Anglican church in the west needs to read that book. She has distanced herself from Anglicanism in America. At least she wasn’t a cradle Anglican, but a Wesleyan, so wouldn’t have felt like she had to leave the church into which she was baptised. She understands the present crisis far better than any trained theologian or bishop in that denomination. Then again, prophets are never honoured by their own…

  • David

    You’re missing the broader point. The Vatican can be as otherworldly as it likes: the raw fact is that the Church is losing the moral high ground. These are not proactive positions, but defensive ones. And citing 1 Timothy isn’t the best way to make this case anyway, in light of the fact that there’s a broad consensus among biblical scholars that Paul didn’t write the Pastoral Epistles.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      What moral high ground exactly does the Church of England occupy?

    • TerryC

      That broad consensus on the Pastoral Epistles certainly doesn’t extend to orthodox Catholic scholars, but only to liberal modernist biblical scholars, who have no real truck with the Holy See anyway. The raw fact here is that this is not about high ground, moral or otherwise. No matter what the practices in the Church of England the Catholic Church does not decide theological matters based on democratic participles, nor should it. It is a dogmatic decision of the Holy See that women cannot be ordained. This is not a policy position which the Church will change under pain of legal or physical punishment.
      We have faced down Nero and Attila the Hun do you really think the Church will bow to modernism when all is said and done?

  • Michael Petek

    The Roman Catholic Church has the advantage of the sovereignty of the Holy See in international relations. The selection of ordinands and the appointment of clergy are acts of ecclesiastical governance and attract sovereign immunity under international law.

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  • Michael Arch

    You mention Elizabeth and caller her wicked what about Mary the Catholic daughter of Henry who killed and burned 300 protestants? You must try to be even handed.
    Michael Arch