Archbishop of Canterbury

Archbishop of Canterbury
   The Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of All England is the centre of Episcopalian Christian unity. The archbishopric was established in 601 AD when Pope Gregory I sent St Augustine to establish the authority of the Roman Catholic church in England. Augustine became the first Archbishop of Canterbury. By 1900 the arcbishopric had become part of the axis of Church and State that forms part of the Establishment. It has also, from time to time, adopted a critical voice with respect to the state, particularly on matters of social justice.
   William Temple (archbishop 1942–4) brought the Anglican Church national exposure and authority concerning unemployment and human rights. He supported the 1942 Beveridge Report on social security. The position of the Archbishop of Canterbury has become an increasingly political appointment made by the monarch on the advice of the Prime Minister of the day. These exercises of political patronage are increasingly seen as irrelevant, and sometimes even insulting, to the diverse views and cultures both within and without the United Kingdom.
   Recent appointees have shown marked independence from their state patronage. Michael Ramsey (appointed 1961) is remembered primarily for his attempts to secure a rapprochement with Rome. Dr Donald Coggan succeeded Ramsey in 1974. Robert Runcie (appointed 1980) is perhaps the most well-known archbishop of recent years. His intellectual, learned and considered liberal approach was offset by Prime Minister Thatcher’s appointment of an archbishop from the evangelical wing, Dr George Carey.
   Carey became the 103rd archbishop of Canterbury in 1991. His indeterminate views against homosexuality and common law cohabitation have somewhat alienated him from both wings of the Church. The upshot is first, a putatively established church for which the pressures of disestablishment are great and second, a putatively established church which claims to represent the people as a whole but which commands almost no popular nor constitutionally safe and secure support. It now commands less than 5 percent of the active support of the population, and most of these are over 60 years of age. In the long term, it must be doubted whether the Church can command popular support or justify its establishment. Structurally, and from the behaviour of its primates, it is far from clear if it is in its interest to be so tied to and so restricted by the State. So far, no Archbishop of Canterbury seems to be willing to grasp the issues involved. Without imaginative leadership in all these areas, it seems the Church is bound for difficult times.
   Further reading
    Hastings, A. (1991) A History of English Christianity: 1920-90, London: SCM Press Ltd.

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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