The General Synod of the CofE voted last week to remove the provision for the Prime Minister to approve bishop selection.
It is quite difficult for most people to understand the unique position the Church of England holds in British Constitutional law. In many ways, it is the last bastion in Europe of the medieval notion that the state and the Church of a Christian nation are inextricably entwined. It is the last connection between the Brave New World founded and ruled byTony Blair and Posh Spice and the ancient, organic and native culture of these islands.
I don't think, though, that separating the CofE from the regime currently ruling us is necessarily a bad thing. It might have the effect of pointing out the disestablishment of the government from any natural connection from its deep past and culture. In many ways, the elusive "British identity" so often talked about in the press and by politicians, can be found in the Church of England and the fact that the CofE itself no longer thinks there is a good reason to be closely associated with the government may point to something quite different than if the government simply dumped the Church.
Either way, it is an interesting development.
Expect more from Westminster soon about taking their Spiritual Lordships out of the Upper Chamber.
During the Synod which ended last week, the Anglican bishops discussed whether they should favor a church model that is more disconnected from the political regime, or whether this link should be maintained in order to preserve the identity of the “Church of England” as completely distinct from the Roman Catholic Church.
The debate ended with the decision to establish greater autonomy from the state in order to assure a clearer spiritual dimension.
How did there come to be bishops in the House of Lords in the first place?
Well, Britain used to be a Catholic nation, one of the most devoutly Catholic in Europe and it was founded, established and nourished by Benedictines, for the most part.
Parliament developed from the council that advised the King during medieval times. This royal council came to be composed of ecclesiastics, noblemen, and representatives of the counties (afterwards, representatives of the boroughs as well). The first Parliament is often considered to be the "Model Parliament" (held in 1295), which included archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, barons, and representatives of the shires and boroughs. The power of Parliament grew slowly, fluctuating as the strength of the monarchy grew or declined. For example, during much of the reign of Edward II (1307–1327), the nobility was supreme, the Crown weak, and the shire and borough representatives entirely powerless. In 1322, the authority of Parliament was for the first time recognised not simply by custom or royal charter, but by an authoritative statute, passed by Parliament itself. Further developments occurred during the reign of Edward II's successor, Edward III. Most importantly, it was during this King's reign that Parliament clearly separated into two distinct chambers: the House of Commons (consisting of the shire and borough representatives) and the House of Lords (consisting of the senior clergy and the nobility). The authority of Parliament continued to grow, and, during the early fifteenth century, both Houses exercised powers to an extent not seen before. The Lords were far more powerful than the Commons because of the great influence of the aristocrats and prelates of the realm.