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Hallo again to all.

Archibald Tait, 93rd Archbishop of CanterburyThe first Lambeth Conference in 1867 was distracted by the infamous Colenso case, and postponed much of its business to the second Conference, 11 years later. That second Lambeth Conference was presided over by the Most Revd Archibald Campbell Tait, 93rd Archbishop of Canterbury. Born and raised in Scotland, though never returning home after going off to Oxford for his education, he is perhaps best known for focusing the power of his office on attempts to quell ritualism and stifle the Catholic revival.

In modern vocabulary, Archbishop Tait would probably be called a 'control freak'. His biographer describes him thus: 'He endeavoured to obtain a compliance to the law as declared by the courts; failing this, he made the most earnest efforts to secure obedience to the ruling of the Ordinary for the sake of the peace of the Church.'

The Anglo-Catholic revival in the Church of England during the 19th century re-introduced Catholic liturgical practices into what was at that time very staid and low-key worship. The conflict surrounding Ritualism was, as we discern it from reading history, every bit as bitter as today's conflicts surrounding sexuality.

Archbishop Tait, as leader of the established Church of England, fought Ritualism the best way he knew how: he took advantage of his status as a member of the House of Lords to introduce a Private Member's Bill regulating worship practices. Such bills originating in the Lords require an MP sponsor, and the Public Worship Regulation Act 1874 was enthusiastically backed by Altar candlesPrime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, wherefore it was enacted with little difficulty. This Act created a secular court authorized to mete out criminal penalties for liturgical violations. There were criminal penalties imposed for wearing certain vestments (maniple, cotta, biretta, and chasuble were among them), for using incense, for putting more than two candles on the altar, for liturgical processions, for the use of wafers in communion, for the practice of benediction of the blessed sacrament, and much more. (We cannot help but imagine a modern SWAT team invading a high-church worship service, wearing gas masks to protect themselves from the incense smoke and carrying fireproof boxes in which to confiscate the candles from the high altar).

Five clergymen were convicted of violating this Act and were imprisoned for it. As far away as New York City, reactions were strong. Later, the saintly Bishop Edward King of Lincoln was prosecuted under the Act for allegedly Romish practices (candles on the altar, mixing water and wine in the chalice, and using the sign of the Cross at the Absolution and Blessing). He was personally convicted by Archbishop Tait, but his conviction was overturned by the judicial committee of the Privy Council and he did not serve time in prison.

While this Act might seem preposterous to our sensibilities 130 years later, it made perfect sense to many at the time; the Ritualist practices that it criminalised undermined many persons' identity as Protestants and their sense of Anglicanism as rooted in a specifically anti-Catholic culture. It wasn't at that time terribly far in the past that royals had been beheading one another for being Catholic or Protestant or for being third in line for the throne. This bitter feud was not really about faith; it was about culture, cultural identity, and power.

And so it is with modern feuds, as well. Archbishop Tait died in 1882 and there was no enforcement of the Public Worship Regulation Act 1874 after his death.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 16 July 2006

(Click for the 16 July update on Cynthia's cancer.)

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