Saturday, 7 November 2009

Goodbye Church of England, hello Church of Europe?

It is a little-understood feature of Anglican theology that the relationship between the Church of England and the Queen is not entirely unique.
This is because the principle that the Queen is the Church’s ‘Supreme Governor’ depends not on the nature of the Church of England, but on the nature of the Queen’s rule. Article 37 deserves careful reading in this regard:
Where we attribute to the King’s Majesty the chief government, by which Titles we understand the minds of some slanderous folks to be offended; we give not to our Princes the ministering either of God’s Word or of the Sacraments, the which thing the Injunctions also lately set forth by Elizabeth our Queen do most plainly testify; but that only prerogative, which we see to have been given always to all godly Princes in holy Scriptures by God himself; that is, that they should rule all estates and degrees committed to their charge by God, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Temporal, and restrain with the civil sword the stubborn and evil-doers. (Emphasis added)
Three things should be noted. First, the powers attributed to the monarch are given by God, not designated by the Church. It is only required of the Church, therefore, to recognize those powers. Secondly, the powers of the monarch apply to all ‘estates and degrees’ under their rule, without exception. Any and every institution is governed by the monarch. Thirdly, this includes the Church of England, but applies equally to every ‘Ecclesiastical or Temporal’ body. According to this understanding, the Queen is thus ‘Supreme Governor’ of the mosques, the gurdwaras, the synagogues, the Baptist chapels, and yes, even the Roman Catholic Church in these islands.
Properly speaking, then, The Episcopal Church in the United States is the Church of America, whose Supreme Governor is Barack Obama (it matters not one whit that church and state are separated in law), the Supreme Governor of the Church of Nigeria is Umaru Yar’Adua, and so on, in just the same way as the Queen is Supreme Governor of the Church of England (indeed, in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, England is generally italicized in such a context).
Or rather, it might be more accurate to say ‘was the Supreme Governor, up until recently’. For the reality is that, even in terms of a constitutional monarchy, she is no longer the supreme governor. That power now lies somewhere else, and since it does, the Church of England becomes, de facto, subject to that power and authority. It may be geographically still in England, but it is not the same as before.
One of the key ‘building blocks’ of the Henrician Reformation was the 1533 Act in Restraint of Appeals, the opening paragraph of which read as follows:
Where by divers sundry old authentic histories and chronicles it is manifestly declared and expressed that this realmof England is an empire, and so hath been accepted in the world, governed by one supreme head and king ... etc.
This principle, together with the older Statute of Praemunire, was the basis on which it was declared in the Act (to the clergy specifically) that all legal cases,
... shall be ... heard, examined, discussed, clearly, finally and definitively adjudged and determined within the King’s jurisdiction and authority, and not elsewhere ...
Now of course, this has not applied for some considerable time in these islands. As far as I can determine (though I am happy to be corrected), the Statute of Praemunire was repealed by the Criminal Law Act of 1967. (I vaguely recall that Enoch Powell was one of the few MPs to draw attention to the enormous significance this might have.)
However, with the passing of the Lisbon Treaty, commentators are now recognizing that we are in a radically different situation regarding our own sovereignty. Indeed, it is clear that absolute sovereignty, of the kind conceived in the days of Henry and beyond, no longer applies.
The fundamental question, then, is whether the Queen is still the ‘Supreme Governor’ of England, via her ministers in Parliament. Of course she is in a ‘sentimental’ way —but is she in political reality? If she is not, then she is no longer the Supreme Governor of the Church of England.
And this outcome is not a matter for debate if the political realities have changed. At his trial, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer was forced to admit that in the times of the Apostles, the earthly ‘head’ of the Church was the emperor Nero. Why? Because in that capacity, he beheaded the Apostles, who had to submit to his authority (following Romans 13).
We are therefore in the curious situation where the Church of England might theologically more properly be called the Church of Europe. Even more worryingly given the possible outcome of the appointment of the EU President, we may be about to see Tony Blair about to become, in effect, its Supreme Governor.
Revd John P Richardson
7 November 2009
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  1. Fascinating and disturbing, this never even occurred to me.

  2. I think you are saying that the CofE is in the same boat as the Baptist Union etc in that it is subject to EU regulations as well English law. Thus EU employment regulations apply to both. How would you express the difference for which calling the CofE the Established Church is shorthand. The Queen has a different relationship to the CofE as the name Crown Appointment Commission testifies

  3. Of course, she IS still Queen of Australia...

  4. A very interesting argument - but you should perhaps include a consideration of the 1688 legislation. The Queen is head of the church but acts through her ministers. She is also Queen because she is head of the church and not head of the church because she is Queen. What would happen if she ceased to be head of the church?