Monday, 4 February 2013


The very nature, even the very existence, of today’s ceremony in Saint Paul’s Cathedral ought to snap deluded BBC types out of the idea that the Anglican Communion, insofar as there still is such a thing, is or has ever been defined by any relationship to or with whoever might happen to have been made Archbishop of Canterbury by whichever Muslim or atheist happened at the time to be Prime Minister of the third successor-state to Henry VIII’s Kingdom of England. The Anglican Communion was in any case overwhelmingly created by people who did not like the Church of England, or very often the English in general.

The Church of Ireland has provided two Presidents of the Irish Republic, including the ardently Irish-speaking first one, both of them in the days when that Republic’s Constitution still laid claim to “the whole island of Ireland”. James Ussher wrote to his Canterbury counterpart as “Brother Primate” and even “Brother Patriarch”; their equality was undoubted on either side. (Ussher’s calculations of the date of creation are by far the least interesting thing about him, and a full biography was quite recently published by Professor Alan Ford of Nottingham, who previously had the questionable pleasure of lecturing me at Durham on the Reformation.)

Anglicans and not Presbyterians may have founded the Orange Order and the Ulster Unionist Party, but the very many who are still in them, and very many are, are fully part of the “Ulster British” culture that includes never cheering for England against anyone, and supporting the Union strictly as a means of defending and of paying for what is really the State of Ulster. Only half of the Church of Ireland is in the Northern Ireland, with the other half cheerfully in the Republic.

The Governing Body of the Church in Wales includes Lord Elis-Thomas, the second person ever elected to the House of Commons specifically as a Welsh Nationalist before becoming the first ever such Peer, although the Leader of Plaid Cymru actively encourages his members to apply, and another previous holder of that office has in fact been ennobled. Most people assume that R S Thomas was a Chapel minister. He was not.

The Episcopal Church in the United States is a product of the American Revolution, deriving its name and orders from the Episcopal Church in Scotland, which then had a recent history of armed insurrection against the Hanoverian monarchy, and which remains heavily concentrated in the area where the SNP is also strongest. Half of all Jacobite fighters throughout these Islands were Scottish Episcopalians, with many Lowlanders among them adopting Highland dress as a sort of Jacobite uniform, leading to the false impression among the English that they were being invaded by Highlanders rather than, as very frequently in reality, by men whose only language was English and who worshipped according to the Book of Common Prayer. Especially in the nineteenth century, American Episcopalians have provided several extremely anti-British Presidents of the United States. I should be amazed if Australian Anglicans were any more or less monarchist or anti-monarchist than the population at large.

Most of the rest of the Anglican Communion’s founding fathers were either hardline Anglo-Catholics or hardline Evangelicals, and had deliberately gone to the ends of the earth, by no means only within the British Empire, in order to escape from the Church of England and start again from scratch, keeping in touch for purposes of spiritual and material support only with parishes whose clergy were, and are, seldom or never made bishops in England. In stark contrast to the Catholic Church in Zimbabwe, the Anglican Church there was until the very recent past closely allied to Robert Mugabe, and a significant, theologically and organisationally Anglican, secession from it still is. There were plenty of Anglican clergymen and laymen in the Mau Mau.

And so on, and on, and on.

The Church of England needs to get over itself.

1 comment:

  1. The very worst thing about the modern Church of England (and as you can imagine, that's up against some pretty stiff competition), and almost the most bizarre, is its claim to be the mother of a worldwide communion. As DL observes, the communion never wanted to be connected to the Church of England as a whole - and as he implies, it has never been a communion in a real sense anyway. Imitation being the sincerest form etc., Rome should be extremely flattered.

    If the Church of England were truly the imperialist and erastian body she claims to be she would be really monstrous. Happily the continual and longstanding passive resistance of her best members prevents this - as our Papist host also graciously implies. I sometimes think I am the last Old High Churchman left, until I meet the others, and wonder how we have all survived. The gates of hell shall not prevail, I suppose...