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Hallo again to all.

We've been thinking lately about the question of Anglicans Behaving Badly — and there are a myriad of examples we could choose from round the communion. In a world of screaming assertiveness, it's not surprising (though it's still sad) to see that Christian men and women can be, from time to time, rude, boorish, and offensive. Perhaps it's time for an 'Anglican Book of Manners'.

There is some doubt as to what can be called the first book of manners. The earliest in England is thought to be the 13th-century Liber Urbani, or the The Book of the Civilised Man, by one Daniel of Beccles. Few now are inclined to plod through a 3000 lines of Latin verse — which include such gems as 'Don't mount your horse in the hall' — and Daniel's Civilised Man is little known outside scholarly circles.Bishops behaving badly at table

The origins of 'how to behave in society' long predate written publications, of course. Ancient Greece had a term for the great and the good — kaloς kἀgάϴoς. Translated literally, it means 'the beautiful and the good'. (Beauty of course referred to a far more complex and elusive idea than our use of the term today.) The KK were examples of how to live a good life*. If there wasn't a written guide, there was Alcibiades.

Manners are of course culturally bound, but the marriage of morals and manners became closer, to the extent that Christianity and culture became synonymous. By the early eighteenth century, a Christian gentleman or a Christian lady was both expected to know which fork to use and how to live a life that, say, reflected the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: from charity and faith to fortitude and piety.

Parental instruction was the normal channel for moulding Christian children. Whether in the somewhat thinly Christian letters of Lord Chesterfield to his son, the energetically pious letters of William Wilberforce to his children, or in any random selection of family letters written by Victorian bishops or clergymen, the instructing of children not only in morals but in etiquette is common. To be a Christian gentleman was to behave as a Christian gentleman. (If well-mannered blackguards occasionally surfaced, they were the exception that proved the rule. And they probably didn't attend Divine Service, besides.)

As Victorian society became increasingly complex, an explosion of books of manners focussed more on the superficialities of etiquette. How to greet someone at a debutante's ball, for example, became more prominent, while the virtue of devoting one's time to the improvement of the poor receded. An occasional reminder that manners and morals were linked almost seemed jarring. Emily Post, perhaps the most well known of American writers on etiquette, in the first publication of Etiquette in 1922 wrote:

Manners are made up of the trivialities of deportment which can be easily learned if one does not happen to know them; manner is personal — the outward manifestation of one's innate character and attitude to life ... Etiquette must include ethics as well as manners.

Etiquette Made EasyIndeed so. And back to the issue of Anglicans Behaving Badly, we're a bit worried about the coming Lambeth Conference. There will be in one place, at one time, a great many bishops, many of whom disagree rather violently with one another. They may find themselves at some dinner or other seated at the same table. We're unwilling to imagine that there would be either sullen silence or raised voices during that dinner. But what are they to do? Imagine our surprise when we found a possible solution in Emily Post's Etiquette.

One inexorable rule of etiquette is that you must talk to our next door neighbour at a dinner table. You must, that is all there is about it! Even if you are placed next to some one with whom you have had a bitter quarrel, consideration for your host and further consideration for the rest of the table exacts that give no outward sign of your repugnance and that you make a pretence at least for a little while, of talking together.

At a dinner once, Mrs Toplofty, finding herself next to a man she quite openly despised, said to him with apparent placidity, 'I shall not talk to you — because I don't care to. But for the sake of my hostess I shall say my multiplication tables. Twice one are two, twice two are four— ' and she continued on through the tables, making him alternate with her.

We rather like that, although we doubt that multiplication tables are a solution to all the problems at present in the Anglican Communion. But there is much to be said for outward courtesy and good manners, especially at times where deep disagreements provoke strong emotions. As Edward Pusey once wrote about manners 'of the old school': 'Others were preferred to self, pain was given to no one, no one was neglected, deference was show to the weak and the aged, and unconscious courtesy extended to all'. That might be a fine opening to Anglican Etiquette: A Twenty-First Century Guide for the Perplexed.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 14 October 2007

* Something Aristotle expanded on to great length in his Nichomachean Ethics. Some of us who read the Ethics in Greek think he went on at rather too great a length.


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