The History of England

from Celts through 20th century

The Established Church of England

Category: Brief History of

The Church of England as established by Henry VIII was never a popular church. In 1649, after the English Revolution, it had become so hated that the victorious bourgeoisie deprived it of its privileges and suppressed the bishops.

This new religious freedom enabled all kinds of Puritan congregations to flourish, whose politics tended to be as radical as their religion. Consequently in 1660, just as the bourgeoisie found it advisable to bring back the monarchy and House of Lords to keep the radicals in check, so they restored the Church of England to its former privileges, and subjected all other Protestants to persecution.

Ever since then, the leading figures of the church, the two archbishops and the bishops, have exerted great influence on the affairs of the state through their close ties with the Crown and their membership of the House of Lords. They have been chosen inthe main from the ranks of the ruling class; 66 per cent of the bishops in 1953 had been educated in public schools, 88 per cent of all bishops at Oxford or Cambridge. Often in the 19th century they were among the most reactionary sections of the House of Lords in opposing moderate democratic reforms.

The state confers special powers on the Established Church, but also controls it. This happens in two main ways, both showing remarkable anomalies. The Crown appoints the bishops and deans of cathedrals on the nomination of the Prime Minister. The latter might be a member of another church or not be a Christian at all. This is the triumph of sheer political expediency over principles. Secondly, any measures passed by the Church Assembly must be approved by both Houses of Parliament, which contain many members who do not belong to the Church of England. So the Church is not free to run its own afaus in the interests of the religious needs of its congregation.

The sovereign must be a member of the Church of England and must promise to uphold its special position. The Church sanctifies the institution of monarchy by assisting at the coronation and thus confers its spiritual blessing on the state asa whole. The Church of England is given a special place in the affairs of Parliament. Each day both Houses open their business with prayers led by an Anglican chaplain, and in the House of Lords the Church has its own official spokesmen — the two archbishops, the bishops of London, Durham and Winchester, and twenty-one other bishops.

The Church of England is the only Church allowed to conduct marriages without the presence of a registrar. Last but not least, the Church is protected by the state in the possession of a large amount of property, acquired in the days of feudalism when the entire population were members of the Church.

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