Lib Link: Paul Tyler on establishment of the church

York Minster by Paul WalterOur own Stephen Tall broke the story last Slownewsday that disestablishment of the Church of England is a longer-term project than the Times and Telegraph might have realised.

Now Paul Tyler in Lords of the Blog, addresses the reasons for the historical presence of Bishops in the House of Lords as ‘Money, not Morals’.

I am a practising Anglican (trying to improve) but I have been firmly committed to disestablishment for over 50 years, for the sake of both church and state. The muddled relationship doesn’t help either at a time when we have become, over the centuries, a multi-denominational and multi-faith nation.

And far from being a necessary product of the Established Church, was it not true that the original medieval model for Parliament, long before Henry VIII and the Reformation, had for a time included more “Lords Spiritual” than “Lords Temporal”? And, indeed, did not these involve Catholic Abbots and Abbesses, as well as all the Bishops? And was not the reason for their inclusion that monarchs of the day needed the financial support of every big feudal landowner before they could contemplate a good war?

As more of a humanist myself, it is a source of great puzzlement to me why it is thought appropriate for one particular church to be controlled by the government. Were it the British Humanist Association that were so controlled, puzzlement would turn to outrage. Perhaps if the church’s job were to believe whatever it is the nation believes, this might make sense, but in this case it would have to be staffed by Douglas Adams’ electric monks.

Photo of York Minster by Paul Walter

* Joe Otten was the candidate for Sheffield Heeley in June 2017, is a councillor in Sheffield and is Tuesday editor of Liberal Democrat Voice.

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6 Comments

  • Matt (Bristol) 2nd May '14 - 4:03pm

    Joe, what you call the ‘electric monk’ model of the CofE has been put forward on many occasions (and some – not all – Liberal politicians were not averse to it in the past) and I think the Tories are still prone to flirt with it. But who is to say what ‘the nation’ believes? (and in this case you mean England, don’t you?)

    Time we made a move on with this, but it’s still uphill work.

  • The Church of England is not controlled by the Government; that’s an extraordinarily inaccurate statement. As I’ve explained in a post on a previous thread about disestablishment, there are different types of established churches and an established church is not necessarily synonymous with a state church. Once upon a time, the Commons acted as the lay chamber of the C of E but the Church has had control of its liturgy and doctrine and the appointment of its bishops (although the fiction of prime ministerial involvement remains) for many a long year.

    In practice (as the great historian Owen Chadwick has observed), disestablishment has been taking place bit by bit since the Repeal of the Tests and Corporation act of 1828 and the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829. It is certainly a long term project!

    As an Anglican priest, I support final disestablishment but it’s not for reason of alleged state control. If any LDV readers want to read an informed (short!) book about this issue, I recommend Paul Avis’ ‘Church, State and Establishment’ .

  • The answer to the question “did not these involve Catholic Abbots and Abbesses” is “yes and no.” There were definitely no abbesses in the Lords! The great monasteries were indeed represented, and usually sent more representatives than the bishops — and together with them, the Lords Spiritual usually outnumbered the Lords Temporal. However, the abbots don’t seem to have had a *right* to be summoned, and their presence or absence depended on the writs issued. Hence there is a great disparity in the lists of abbots between one parliament and the next. The king’s freedom to summon any abbot to parliament or to deny him entrance probably made the abbots a somewhat more pliable tool than either the hereditary lords or the bishops.

  • Kay Kirkham 4th May '14 - 2:59pm

    If the church decides to’ put in a huge amount of energy working though the stages rather than doing what it is there for’ , then that’s the church’s problem and should in no way inhibit the supporters of disestablishment from promoting their views whether they do so from within the church, like Suzanne, or from outside it, like me. The problem with ‘ long and slow’ I would have thought from the church’s point of view is that, as with sex and sexuality, it makes them look out of touch and inward looking which is surely not what they really want. In a multicultural, multifaith or no faith society, the case for disestablishment is sure unanswerable.

  • Matthew Huntbach 7th May '14 - 2:16pm

    The Church of England was established as a tame Church that would be under the control of the English state. If you look at what happened on its foundation, there actually was strong Parliamentary control of its beliefs and practiced. The myth is that Henry VIII set it up to validate his marriage annulment after the Pope refused it, but the reality if you look closer is that this seems largely to have been a ruse by the reformers, who then kept Henry himself in the dark about just what they were doing, while keeping him sweet by bailing him out with the proceeds of the dissolution of the monasteries, at lest those proceeds that were left after they’d taken their share. Also enabled a new tame aristocracy to be established giving them those ex-Church lands which obviously too kept them loyal. Mary I tried to restore Catholicism, but she knew better than to try and reverse that establishment of the new aristocracy – the monasteries remained firmly dissolved.

    Now, however, the Parliamentary control of the Church of England is purely nominal. Other countries in Europe have state taxes which are passed on to their Churches, no such thing in England. So it’s hard to see what “establishment” really means. Bishops in the Lords are pretty much nominal, is there any piece of legislation that can be named where they had any sort of influence on it, let alone blocked it? There are some quaint legal anomalies resulting from establishment, but can anyone point out any that are really harmful? I can’t see the point of all the effort that would be resolved to undo these quaint anomalies. I’m not an Anglican myself, but it doesn’t bother me. I rather like historical quaint things left in place so long as they do no harm. So leave it be, unless someone can persuade me I’ve missed something.

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