A little over a hundred years ago, 1858 to be precise, a directory of the clergy of the Church of England was published by a certain Edward William Cox, who was a barrister of the Middle Temple, London. Since he enjoyed the official status of a sergeant-at-law, it was not permissible for him to give his own name to the directory, and so he issued it in the name of his managing clerk, John Crockford. Such was the origin of the now well-known Crockford’s Clerical Directory, the 78th edition of which has just been published. It is a bulky and expensive, though much consulted, work of reference, now published every other year. One of its features is an anonymous Preface, which is by custom written by a person of distinction in the Church of England who, by reason of his anonymity, is able to express outspokenly and pungently his view of the current situation in that church.
The Preface to the 1959–60 edition of Crockford will not disappoint those who look for a provocative survey. I wish only to draw attention to some of the things the author has to say concerning episcopacy. He speaks with approval of the preservation by the Protestant Episcopal Church of America of the ancient prohibition against translating a bishop from one diocese to another—a practice not unusual in England, and which “became common at a time when the incomes of the various sees differed widely, and it was possible to arrange a cursus stipendiorum which began with one of the Welsh sees or the see of Hereford and worked upwards to plums such as Ely and Winchester.” Now that the incomes of diocesan bishops are comparatively uniform, financial consideration scarcely come into the picture, but it would seem that the question of prestige, associated with the more ancient bishoprics, plays a part; or one diocese may be regarded as more important than another because it is larger and more populous.
Such a view of things the writer of the Preface finds objectionable, and he contends that “as little as possible should be done to suggest that one diocese is less or more important than another. Particularly is this so as between old and new sees. The newer dioceses have generally come into being because there have grown up big new areas of population. In them the Church has the task of establishing itself as an integral part of the community, traditions have to be formed, local patriotism developed. None of this is likely to happen if a diocese is used as a rung on the ladder to promotion. There is need, in these dioceses above all, for bishops who will stay and devote the rest of their life’s work to the development of the Church in the new urban areas. The two obvious exceptions to such a rule, if it were to be enforced, would be the archbishoprics of Canterbury and York.
In England we also have what are known as suffragan bishops (44 of them) whose function is to aid the diocesan bishops in their various episcopal duties, administrative and ministerial. Their position is, however, far from satisfactory: they are subservient to their respective diocesans and, apart from having received episcopal consecration, have no proper authority or status. It is likely that none are more conscious of the anomalous position in which they are placed than the suffragan bishops themselves.
Suffragan bishops exist today “only because the Church lacks the courage to break with feudal ideas and divide its dioceses on a rational basis,” says the Preface. “It may happen from time to time that for some special and temporary reason it is desirable for a diocesan to have some episcopal assistance, but,” the unknown writer criticizes, “the modern creation of suffragan bishops has quite outrun theological sense, and it is a degradation of the episcopal office that we should now have a class of episcopal curates some of whom expect in due course to become episcopal incumbents.” The criticism is cogent as well as pungent.
The author of the Preface boldly addresses himself to the question of the qualities which should be sought when a new Archbishop of Canterbury has to be appointed—which may very possibly be before the next General Election. (It is the prerogative of the Prime Minister to nominate new archbishops and bishops to the Queen.) Tribute is paid to the efficient manner in which the present Archbishop has remodeled the Lambeth administration; but “the Church does not want a colorless, quiet efficient administrator.” The new archbishop “must, of course, have a reasonable competence at business, but he need not have more, and it would indeed be a disaster if he were thought of as primarily an administrator.” Again: “He need not be a popular speaker, broadcaster, or television figure, but he must be a man who, when he speaks, commands respect because he has something of worth to say.” The judgment that “it is doubtful whether more than one or two members of the present episcopate answer these requirements” reflects unfavorably but not, perhaps, unjustly, on the composition of the English bench of bishops.
Last year a new episcopal figure arrived on the English scene. It was Bishop Stephen Bayne, formerly a bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church of America, who now has been appointed to the newly created post of Executive Officer of the Anglican Communion. The appointment is an outcome of the 1958 Lambeth conference of bishops, normally held every 10 years in London at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury. As the Preface remarks, “it is doubtful whether anyone can say precisely what the duties of the new office will be, and much will depend upon the insight and initiative of its first holder.” Hope is expressed that “he will not attempt to introduce into Anglican affairs those aspects of American organization which have been so much criticized in the affairs of the World Council of Churches, and it is perhaps important,” adds the writer, “that Dr. Fisher’s successor at Lambeth should be a man whose sympathies do not lie in that direction.”
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