Hallo again to all.
It's the silly seasonwhat better time for scandal? It's easy to assume that the church has always been preoccupied with sexual sin, to the exclusion of every other sort of naughtiness. Certainly our News Centre often seems to be top heavy with articles about sex and sexuality. But in the early 19th-century Church of England, greed loomed larger than sex.
'The Extraordinary Black Book', compiled by John Wade, was first published in 1820 with the title 'Corruption Unmasked'. It was a serious analysis of the abuse of patronage and power, as its later subtitle suggested: 'An Exposition of Abuses of Church and State, Courts of Law, Representation, Municipal and Corporate Bodies; with a Precis of the House of Commons, Past, Present, and to Come'.
This 'fascinating exposé went into numerous editions', as a current bookseller's description has it, 'in which Wade names names, listed unearned compensations, pointed out abuses of patronage, the milking of foundations, political logrolling, influence peddling and other conduct, all of which has a curiously modern ring. "Religion a trade, justice a trade, government a tradeall for money; nothing for the public good."' The sales of the Black Book were said to approach 50,000 copies.
Much of the analysis was given over to the abuses of advowsons and sinecures, with chapter headings such as 'Rapacity of the Clergy Exemplified'. And exemplified it was, in the daily newspapers:
Clerical financial wheelings and dealings often occurred at Garraway's Coffee House in London, where even the sober Hansard (Parliamentary Reports) noted that advowsons were sold. Sabine Baring-Gould, in Church Revival, cites the story of the incumbent and patron who shammed a fatal illness, sold the advowson dearly, recovered his health the same day, and eventually made over £2,000 on the deal.*
What difference did the Black Book make? Historians have concluded that it certainly contributed to the passing of the landmark 1832 Reform Bill, which swept away the most flagrant abuses of power and patronage. But then, of course, the next church-related scandal loomed: the strange case of the Deceased Wife's Sister.
We can't claim patronage or nepotism: Gillian Barr is not related, in any degree, to current Anglicans Online staff, but we're delighted to welcome her as the editor of our recently-revamped Christian Education and Ministries section. A lifelong Episcopalian, Gillian is the Parish Education Director at Calvary Episcopal Church in Rochester, Minnesota, USA. She's been responsible for Christian formation for all ages in Presbyterian and Episcopal congregations, and holds an MDiv from Princeton Seminary, where she focused on approaches to adult formation.
And before you leave AO, do turn to New This Week, which is filled with much more than you might expect in these late-summer days of the northern hemisphere.
See you next week.
Last updated: 12 August 2001
*A History of the English Clergy, by C. K. Francis Brown (1953), is the source of much of this information.