Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The Politics of Episcopacy*

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The Politics of Episcopacy*

Article excerpt

TRACTARIANISM AND THE DIVINE EPISCOPATE

In his Enquiry, first published in 1828, the young Dr. Pusey, who had visited Germany in 1825 and again in 1826-27, remarked that "the time is not far distant when the religious energy, now widely visible in Germany, shall produce its fruits, and the Evangelical Church, strengthened by the increasing internal unanimity, fortified against error by past experience, and founded on a scriptural faith, shall again, in religious as well as scientific depth, be at least one amongst the fairer portions of the universal church of the redeemer."1 Within a few years, however, when the time came to appoint Bishop Gobat as second occupant of the joint Anglo-Prussian bishopric in Jerusalem in 1846, the same author could write to W. E. Gladstone: "What a misery it would be if the ultimate object of the Prussian Government were attained and they were to receive episcopacy from us and we were to become the authors of an heretical succession...To be alive to heresy is a mark of full soundness of faith...To give the episcopacy to Prussia now...is like arraying a corpse or whitening a sepulchre."2 Even more disturbing is Pusey's letter to B. Harrison written a few days later (and which was to be forwarded to the archbishop of Canterbury): "I cannot say what an exceeding blessing a suspension of the Jerusalem Bishopric should be. I hope to pray earnestly for it. It would make one breathe again...! feel as [if] I could bless God more fervently for the suspension of the Jerusalem bishopric than for the life of a dying child: by how much the church must be dearer to one than one's own life or one's child."3 The Jerusalem bishopric, not surprisingly in the light of such passion, thus "marked an outpouring of unqualified Tractarian hostility towards the continental reformed churches hitherto unparalleled in the Church of England".4

Although the history of the Jerusalem Bishopric itself is as much a history of diplomatic relations and often bungled public relations between two Protestant countries interested in filling the power vacuum left by the decay of the Ottoman Empire after the rising of Mohammed AIi in the 183Os, as it is an exercise in ecumenism,5 it nevertheless brought to a head the central issue which divided and still divides the German churches from the Church of England. Indeed the issue of episcopacy was largely unresolved in the Meissen Agreement and has consequently been the focus of much of the work produced in the subsequent discussions.6 My claim in this paper is that the Tractarian revival of the doctrine of apostolic succession as the (supernatural) basis for the authority of the church more or less replaced the alternative model of sovereignty-the unbridled authority of the King in parliament-which had underpinned the traditional Anglican settlement. What I offer is a development of the suggestion put forward by Ingolf Dalferth: "To put il bluntly, one could say that the driving forces in the development of the Anglican theology of episcopacy were not primarily or exclusively theological, but always also (church) political considerations."7 Episcopacy in Anglicanism cannot be properly understood apart from its relation to the (political) concepts of sovereignty and authority. However, neither the Tractarian nor the traditional models of episcopacy are adequate for the future of the role of episcopacy in the Church of England. Nevertheless the earlier model, shorn of its underpinning in an outdated and indefensible form of sovereignty, offers a possible way forward.

The visible episcopacy standing in direct line from the apostles filled the vacuum left by the final de facto breakdown of the structures of authority which developed in the early years of separation from Rome. As E. A. Knox observed in 1933:

The essence of the Oxford Movement was an attempt to assert the existence of a corporate body, wholly clerical, possessing a divine right to prescribe lor the Nation its faith and worship. …

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