Convocation of the English Clergy

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The designation of two distinct but functionally related ecclesiastical assemblies associated in the past and at present with the government of the Archbishoprics of Canterbury and York. This entry covers the origins and historical developments of the Convocations of Canterbury and York.

Historically, there is an ecclesiastical assembly called the Convocation of Canterbury and another the Convocation of York. Both may be compared to provincial synods, but their involvement in English constitutional history has induced them to operate in areas not usually claimed by synods on a provincial level. Their development as an institution may be traced back to early Anglo-Saxon England. In form they have remained relatively stable since the Middle Ages, but the Reformation led to the loss of their power to act independently of the state. In the late 19th and 20th centuries they have functioned as the voice of the clergy of the Church of England, but their position and power have been overshadowed by the National Assembly created in 1919 by act of Parliament. Of the two, the Convocation of Canterbury has been considered the operational leader and the term "Convocation" is often used in reference to it alone. At times, members from both convocations have sat together in full synod to handle common problems.

Origins. English constitutional and ecclesiastical history constitutes the necessary background for a developmental study of convocation. Its history may be divided into six stages: (1) Anglo-Saxon England; (2) after the Norman Conquest to the 13th century; (3) the late Middle Ages; (4) the Reformation period; (5) the post-Reformation period; and (6) the late 19th and 20th centuries.

Ecclesiastical meetings were held in England as early as the time of Saint augustine of canterbury. Under Saint theodore of canterbury, bishops were summoned to promote subscription to canons of the Church universal as well as to unify the Church in England. At a meeting in a.d. 680, the canons of the Lateran Council of 649 were adopted as well as the dogmas of the first five general councils. The 8th century witnessed the establishment of the Archbishopric of York as well as the continued development in the use of councils to help govern the Church. In the latter part of the 9th and 10th centuries and the first 60 years of the 11th, church councils as such were not fully utilized; the affairs of the Church were taken care of in a witan, a body in which ecclesiastics had a strong voice by virtue of their learning and territorial importance.

After lanfranc was consecrated archbishop of Canterbury, the Church began to move away from governmental fusion with the state, a trend paralleling developments on the Continent. In the 12th century, papal legates presided over a number of ecclesiastical meetings. A mandate of the archbishop of Canterbury, summoning one for September 1125, contains the word convocatio, the first known use of this term to denote an ecclesiastical assembly in England.

The 13th century brought regular participation of the lower clergy in ecclesiastical gatherings, as the importance of the clergy as a class increased in relation to monarchical and papal assertions of authority and demands for financial aid. Clerics other than diocesan bishops were not given a decisive vote in the making of ecclesiastical constitutions, but it was recognized that they had a right to be heard on such matters, and if taxed, to consent in the determination of the amount of taxation. It became the practice of the lower clergy to attach conditions to their grants. The development of more refined procedure and greater organization for the summoning and conducting of ecclesiastical meetings accompanied this development.

In 1226, Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, began the practice of distributing his mandate for a meeting through the bishop of London as dean of the province; this procedural step has been followed ever since for Canterbury. Representatives of the lower clergy also began in 1226 to participate in councils called to deal with the king's requests for money. In 1273, Robert Kilwardby, archbishop of Canterbury, summoned representatives of the lower clergy to a gathering designed primarily to handle ecclesiastical business. It was called and held independently of the king; abbots and priors did not attend. With the Convocation of Canterbury of May 1283, the system of having the diocesan clergy represented by two proctors from each diocese was inaugurated. The arrangement regarding representation was never embodied in a canon, but it was followed when the lower clergy were summoned to the Convocation of Canterbury. The Archbishopric of York's convocation was soon organized in the same manner except that two proctors were elected from each archdeaconry instead of each diocese. Until 1920 only beneficed clergy voted in an election for proctors.

In the autumn of 1295, Edward I summoned the diocesan clergy to Parliament. The form of the summons sent to the archbishop of Canterbury became the official form for summoning the clergy to Parliament in the future, except for occasional and slight changes. In the wording of the summons the word "praemunientes" appears for the first time, and it has since been used to describe the clause in question. The king asked for the same scale of representation as that of the 1283 Convocation of Canterbury.

The lower clergy resisted the attempt by the king to tax them through Parliament. Although proctors of the lower clergy appeared in Parliament, ecclesiastical meetings were needed to satisfy the king's financial demands as well as to provide for the government of the Church. The terms provincial council and convocation were both used to describe such meetings. In those meetings called to secure a grant, the participation of the lower clergy became formalized in representation according to precedent as well as in organization. After 1340, grants to the king by the lower clergy were determined in this type of meeting, the king usually ordering a meeting to be convoked at or near the time of a Parliament for such a purpose. Later, Convocation became the accepted designation for these gatherings. Clerical proctors continued to attend Parliament as observers or advisers into the 16th century.

When Convocation met, it became the custom for the archbishop to ask the lower clergy to deliberate separately. Out of this emerged the organizational division of Convocation into an Upper House for the archbishops and diocesan bishops and a Lower House for the rest of the clergy. Convocation usually opened with a joint session for a declaration of its authority and purpose and the two divisions then withdrew to deliberate as individual units. The decisions and grievances of the lower clergy came to be reported by an official called the prolocutor. In the 15th century the use of committees developed. Since 1429, the members of Convocation have had the same freedom from arrest as members of Parliament. In the pre-Reformation period Convocation was not controlled in its deliberations by the civil power.

Reformation. The independence of Convocation was lost by the Submission of the Clergy (1531), later given statutory force by Henry VIII in 1534. The king's writ became necessary for the assembling of any provincial meeting and his license had to be obtained for the enactment of any canon. After the passage of the Act of Supremacy (1559) and the Act of uniformity (1560), Convocation participated in the imposition of religious change upon England under the protection and supervision of the state. In character, it became the provincial assembly of the Church of England. Even with the king's permission, it was prohibited legally from enacting any canon contrary or inimical to the laws and customs of England.

With the Restoration, Convocation's right to act as the taxing authority for the clergy was abandoned to Parliament without a struggle. In the late 17th and early 18th century, it became an arena in which the religio-political questions of the day were debated. During the reign of Queen Anne, special "Letters of Business" were issued by the crown to Convocation for the purpose of securing consideration of certain specified matters. This procedure was followed at different times in the future. In 1717 the king prorogued Convocation against its will and, although it continued to be summoned before each Parliament, it was not allowed to operate beyond its formal opening ceremonies for the next 135 years. As part of the renewal of church life engendered by the oxford move ment, the Convocation of Canterbury was revived in 1852 and that of York in 1861. This revival made no change in the limitations placed upon Convocation by the Reformation, and historical precedents. Convocation deliberated and enacted canons with the king's permission, but it had no power to depart from its past relationships until the formation of the National Assembly established a body capable of sanctioning changes in its legal position. With the approval of the National Assembly, in 1921, both Convocations liberalized the use of the franchise and defined the membership arrangements of their lower house. Membership in the Convocation of Canterbury was reduced with the establishment of the province of Wales in 1920.

Bibliography: d. b. weske, Convocation of the Clergy (London 1937). e. barker, The Dominican Order and Convocation (Oxford 1913). j. t. dodd, Convocation and Edward Dodd's Share in Its Revival (London 1931). f. makower, The Constitutional History and Constitution of the Church of England (London 1895). t. lathbury, A History of the Convocation of the Church of England (London 1842). g. trevor, The Convocation of the Two Provinces (London 1852). j. w. joyce, England's Sacred Synods (London 1853). h. spelman et al., eds., Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents Relating to Great Britain and Ireland, 3 v. (Oxford 186973). a. f. smethurst and h. r. wilson, eds., Acts of the Convocations of Canterbury and York (London 1948). e. cardwell, ed., Synodalia, 2 v. (Oxford 1842). f. warre cornish, The English Church in the Nineteenth Century, 2 v. (London 1910). e. kemp, "The Origins of the Canterbury Convocation," The Journal of Ecclesiastical History 3 (1952) 13243. f. m. powicke and c. r. cheney, Councils and Synods, v.2 (Oxford 1964).

[v. h. ponko, jr./eds.]