Wednesday, June 21, 2006


Some Aspects of Episcopal Authority in the Church of England 1928-1981 with special reference to the ecumenical dialogue

Margaret Parker

A thesis presented for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy King's College, University of London, 1992

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The thesis is an historical survey of the main aspects of episcopal authority in the Church of England during the period 1928 to 1981. The various theories then current of the basis of episcopal authority are examined. Then the subject is explored in the light of the relationship of Church and State and the role of the State in ecclesiastical legislation and episcopal appointment. Reference is made to the growing attempts of the Church to gain more control over its doctrine and worship, and the appointment of its bishops. The role of bishops is studied in relation to the Church's own legislative bodies, Church Assembly and the General Synod, and in relation to the Lambeth Conference. The function of bishops in Church discipline and the exercise of the Church's Magisterium is considered. Particular attention is paid to the importance of episcopal authority, in theory and practice, to ecumenical relations and the attempts to reunite the Church of England with the Roman Catholic Church. Finally a short appendix has been added to survey the position 1981 to 1991 where developments have taken place of particular relevance to the preceding subject matter.


I would like to express my gratitude to the many people who have assisted me with information, comments and criticisms. Many present and retired bishops of the Church of England have been kind enough to answer my questions, among them I would especially wish to thank Donald Coggan, Stuart Blanch, David Jenkins, Edward Knapp-Fisher, Simon Phipps, Patrick Rodger, Mark Santer, Kenneth Skelton, G. D. Savage, Maurice Wood, Kenneth Woolcombe, Graham Leonard and Colin Buchanan. Other members of the Church of England to whom I owe a special debt of gratitude are Henry Chadwick, Christopher Hill, Julian Charley, Howard Root, John Cockerton, John Stott, Derek Whitehead, James Hickinbotham, Eric Mascall, Judge Quentin Edwards, A. W. Nunn and my many long-suffering friends among the clergy. On Ecumenical questions I must express my thanks particularly to Archbishop Luigi Barbarito, Bishops Alan Clark and Cormac Murphy O'Connor, Mgr Bryan Chestle, Edward Yarnold, Michael Jackson, Peter Cornwell and Jeffrey Scott of the Roman Catholic Church. I have received much help from many members of the Free Churches in England, and I must mention here especially Rupert Davies. My greatest debt however is to my supervisor Judith Champ for so much help and encouragement, and to my husband Ian for all his support and his role as my personal computer consultant.

Margaret Parker

1) Authority in the Church of England.
2) Theological Interpretations of Episcopal Authority
3) The Authority of Bishops and the Authority of the State
4) Bishops and the Machinery of Church Government
5) The Bishops and Church Discipline
6) Magisterium
7) Episcopacy and Church Unity
8) ARCIC on Authority and Episcopal Authority in the Church of England
Appendix : A Brief Survey of Developments 1981-1991.

INTRODUCTION I came to know Lord Ramsey when he lived near Oxford, following his retirement as Archbishop of Canterbury. We had many discussions on the relationship of Church and State and on the functions of the episcopacy. These discussions influenced my choice of subject for this thesis. It was however more than ten years before I could really begin my research as I married, went to live in Germany, and had children. During this ten years further developments were to take place, particularly the ARCIC I Final Report with its document on Authority and all the ensuing discussions. These have enabled me to produce a much clearer picture of the nature of episcopal authority in the Church of England based on its recent history than I would have been able to had my research commenced at an earlier date, for with ARCIC I the issues became a subject more readily discussed within the Church of England. In some ways episcopal authority was a difficult choice as there were so many related areas tempting me to explore them further. To do so adequately would have led to a thesis of 900,000 words rather than 90,000. Because of this some adjacent areas have had to be completely omitted, especially women and the episcopate, the role of suffragan bishops, a detailed study of the role of the laity in the authority structure of the Church, and a consideration of the role of bishops as symbols of the unity of the Church. Other adjacent topics are considered only in relation to episcopal authority, these include the relationship of Church and State. Likewise, although there is some reference to the period before , word limitations have prevented me from tracing the twentieth century concepts to those developed in the nineteenth century. The greatest temptation to overcome was to explore at length the full questions of what is the nature of authority in the Church generally, and the extent to which the Church needs authority. These questions would be more than a thesis themselves. What I have attempted to do in this thesis is to take an historical period, starting with the rejection of the 1928 Prayer Book and ending with the publication of the ARCIC I Final Report which included the Statements on Authority, and examine major aspects of the theories and practice of episcopal doctrinal authority current during that time span. I have focused on the main areas where one might expect such authority to be manifested, such as Magisterium and discipline, examining what has actually taken place. The various restrictions on episcopal authority, both doctrinal and administrative, placed by Parliament and the General Synod are investigated. The conflict between the theology and practice of episcopal authority which affected a large section of the Church for much of this period receive particular attention. The problems of episcopal authority in ecumenical debate are considered, both the attempts to introduce episcopacy to the Free Churches as part of any reunion schemes, and the potential stumbling blocks of joining the Church of England's episcopacy with the more rigid structures of the Roman Catholic Church. I have also looked at those aspects of episcopal administrative authority which are of particular significance to the history of the subject in this period. Those are of considerable importance to the way in which episcopal authority is regarded in the ecumenical discussions of the 1960's, 1970's and 1980's. Unfortunately, for reasons of space, I have had to omit reference to the Anglican-Orthodox dialogue and give little attention to the dialogue between the Anglicans and Lutherans and some other Protestant denominations which took place in the 's and 1970's.See Anglicans in Dialogue published by the Church of England Board for Mission and Unity, (1984) I have also omitted reference to the preliminary papers which led to the Lima Text on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, under the auspices of the World Council of Churches, as the Lima Text was not in an agreed form to be sent to Churches for discussion until 1982. However I have not dealt with all aspects of the bishop's day to day running of his diocese, except in areas such as patronage, Parson's Freehold and discipline. The authority aspect of these is harder to quantify and varies from bishop to bishop as I have discovered from my correspondence with numerous bishops. Throughout this period the diocesan bishops and archbishops had a share in the collective control of the Church's finances as they comprise 43 of the 95 Church Commissioners alongside the Prime Minister, part of Cabinet etc. Their part in the selection and training of ordinands is limited, and likewise their role in connection with Church schools. One of the most enjoyable features about this research was indeed this correspondence and conversations I had especially with retired diocesan bishops and archbishops, with some who are not retired, with members of ARCIC both Roman Catholic and Anglican, and with Anglican and Free Church clergy. From retired bishops I learned much of the problems of bishops in synod, of their attitudes to the establishment of the Church of England, their reactions to the authority of their Roman Catholic counterparts and many other matters which could not be learned from printed sources. Their kindness and can dour have been invaluable. In almost all areas of episcopal authority on which I questioned them I found considerable divergence in their answers reflecting different attitudes and different shades of churchmanship. This proved consistent with the rest of my research in showing that in many ways episcopal authority in the Church of England was almost impossible to define but rested largely on the attitudes, influence and general charisma of the individual bishops themselves and this was the way they all believed it should be.