An understanding of the situation in the Church of England in Trollope’s time is vital to the understanding of Barchester Towers. In the two following sections, as much information on the organisation and history of the Anglican Church as is necessary for the study of this novel is given.
Ecclesiastical Organisation in England
The ecclesiastical administration of England is in the hands of two archbishops, each controlling a province. These are the Archbishop of Canterbury (at Lambeth) and the Archbishop of York (at Bishopsthorpe).
The supreme assembly within each province is a body known as Convocation. This assembly consists of all the bishops and clergy of the province and can either meet separately, or jointly with that of the other province. Convocation can be assembled only by a royal writ, and cannot make obligatory any new rule or canon, or change any part of its ritual or prayer book without Parliamentary sanction. Just before the time of Barchester Towers, permission had been given for the reassembly of Convocation after a lapse of 135 years.
Convocation must be distinguished from the Lambeth Conference (not existing in Trollope’s time, as it was first constituted in 1867). This is a purely consultative assembly of all the bishops of the Anglican Church; it usually meets every ten years, and its deliberations carry great weight.
The two provinces are subdivided into dioceses (or sees) each in the charge of a bishop (from Greek “epi”, over and “scopein”, to see; hence “overseer”). In England, there are forty-three dioceses, and a total of three hundred and twenty one in the Anglican Church throughout the world.
Each diocese is divided into a number of parishes and these are the smallest administrative units of the church. Each parish is in the care of a clergyman known as a rector (if, in earlier times, he was entitled to collect his own tithes, i.e. payments in kind from his parishioners), or a vicar (if he did not collect tithes but was paid from the central funds). The rector or vicar is usually assisted in his parish work by a curate. From the point of view of a clergyman’s income, a parish is often spoken of as a benefice or as a living; and the person having the benefice is often spoken of as an incumbent. From the point of view of responsibility, a parish is often spoken of as a cure.
Various administrative groupings may be found between the diocese and the parish. If a diocese is fairly large, a number of parishes (especially outlying ones) may be placed in the charge of a rural dean, who assists the bishop in respect of these parishes. If the diocese is large enough to contain a number of rural deaneries, these are sometimes grouped together in the charge of an archdeacon, who is thus, in effect, second in command to the bishop in the purely administrative work of the diocese. Sometimes, however, in very large dioceses, the bishop may have a deputy bishop or suffragan whose function is to assist in the spiritual work of the diocese and whose status is higher than that of an archdeacon.
The bishop has other duties besides those of his diocese, and these are political. The two archbishops have each a permanent seat in the House of Lords; twenty-four other seats are allocated to the bishops, and of these twenty-four, three are permanently taken by the bishops of London, Durham and Winchester; the remaining twenty-one are allocated to the other bishops in the order of their seniority dating from their consecration.
In Barchester Towers, Dr. Proudie, being only just made a bishop, has no seat in the House of Lords; but he will have one in the course of time, no doubt.
The chief church in a diocese is called a cathedral because it contains the bishop’s official seat, or cathedra, (Lat. chair). Numerous other buildings, usually in a quadrangle, are often involved and the entire area of the cathedral is called a close. The house where the bishop lives is called the palace and is usually one of the cathedral buildings. The bishop thus normally resides in the city where his cathedral is situated.
The religious services inside the cathedral, the maintenance of the buildings and any other matters belonging specifically to the cathedral (but not to the diocese) are placed in the hands of a committee called the chapter. The chairman of this chapter is a clergyman known as the dean. Just as the archdeacon is the bishop’s lieutenant in the diocese, so the dean is his lieutenant in purely cathedral matters.
Many of the members of the chapter are called canons— for originally they were persons (usually in a monastery or other institution) who lived according to a canon, or fixed rule of conduct; but now the word canon can be applied to any member of a cathedral chapter, whether resident in the close or not. Some members of the chapter are called prebendaries; this merely means (a) that they receive payment from cathedral funds for their services on the chapter, and (b) that they have a special seat, or stall, allotted to them in the choir or chancel of the cathedral. It is possible for a clergyman to be both a canon and a prebendary at the same time.
The precentor (Lat. prae, first; cantare, to sing) is a member of the chapter and is next in seniority to the dean. He is not only in charge of the cathedral music but also, in many cases, leads the singing.
Another important member of the chapter is the chancellor; he is in charge of all the legal business of the cathedral. There is also a treasurer and he, naturally, is responsible for the cathedral finances. These three officials are canons or prebendaries who add these duties to their normal ones.
Nothing can be laid down about the size of the chapter but it is interesting to note that the Report of the Cathedrals’ Commission (1960) said that a dean (or provost) and two canons would be an adequate minimum; but this view has met with severe criticism from modern churchmen. The Report of a similar Commission in 1836 laid it down that the absolute minimum for a chapter was to be a dean and four canons (of whom one was to be an archdeacon) and it was envisaged that many cathedrals would need more than this number. Barchester certainly had a large chapter and we can see now why Archdeacon Grantly attended its meeting in Chapter VII.
Other clergymen referred to in Barchester Towers as being connected with the cathedral or the diocese (but not necessarily members of the chapter) are minor canons, vicars choral and chaplains.
The minor canons are clergymen who are called upon to assist with the preaching inside the cathedral. They usually act as substitutes for any members of the chapter who are unable to preach when their turn comes in the rota. In Barchester Towers, Dr. Stanhope was in Italy for twelve years and his services were taken for him by these minor canons. It was also feared that Mr. Slope would be able to preach in the cathedral simply by offering himself as a substitute.
The vicars choral are any clergymen who normally assist with the musical services of the cathedral. They are generally in the choir. A vicar choral may also have a benefice in the diocese even though his duties require him to be in the cathedral every Sunday. In this case, he would pay a curate to preach in his own church.
A chaplain is a clergyman (often a junior one) who performs religious duties specifically for (a) an eminent man (ecclesiastic or noble), or (b) an institution, such as a hospital or a workhouse, or (c) a ship or regiment. Some clergymen undertake chaplain’s duties in addition to those of their benefice. Mr. Slope’s duties as Chaplain to the Bishop of Barchester included a great deal of secretarial work and also perhaps the conducting of such services as Communion for the bishop alone.
High, Broad and Low Church
At the beginning of the sixteenth century, there were two main currents of religious opinion in Europe: (1) the Roman Catholic Church with its body of doctrine built up through fifteen centuries, its accumulated tradition, its apostolic succession, and its institutional authority culminating in the supremacy of the Pope; and (2) the Reformed or Protestant Church which “protested” against a number of practical abuses in the Catholic Church and against certain points in its doctrine and administration.
The Protestant Churches can be subdivided into two main groups. The first of these is the Lutheran which originated in Germany through Martin Luther (1483-1546) and which was moderate in outlook. It rejected some points of Catholic doctrine and organisation but accepted others—notably the system of church government by bishops. The second is the Calvinist, originating in Jean Calvin (1509-64), first in France and then transferring to Geneva. This was an extreme left-wing movement, rejecting nearly everything in Catholicism. In particular, it rejected (1) the doctrine of salvation by works, (2) the system of government by bishops—for it preferred its own system of government by elders or presbyters—and (3) the Apostolic Succession. It was fanatical in its principles and austere in its judgments.
In England, after the Reformation, the settlement of Elizabeth in 1559 established the protestant Church of England (i.e. the Anglican Church) as a national, middle-of-the-road church, about half-way between Roman Catholicism on the right and Calvinism on the left, and very much on the lines of the Lutheran Church. While denying many Catholic doctrines, the Anglican Church retained the system of government by bishops, and also some points of ritual. Its doctrinal position was stated in The Thirty-nine Articles (drawn up about 1576) to which assent was for many years compulsory for those who aspired to positions in the State or the Universities—and still is compulsory for its clergy. Its ritual is based upon the Revised Prayer Book of Edward VI.
In Scotland, however, the Calvinist form of Protestantism established itself in the form known as Presbyterianism. John Knox (1505-1572) was its founder and leading figure. Those Englishmen who supported Presbyterianism rather than Anglicanism were often known as Puritans, mainly because of the austerity of their private lives and their insistence on minor details of conduct and belief.
At this point, it must be made clear that in this country the state is supreme in spiritual matters as well as in temporal. This subordination of church to state is known as Erastianism. The Anglican Church is “established”, as the phrase is; this does not mean that it is financed by the state but that it is officially set up by the state and that its beliefs and practices are controlled by Parliament. For instance, there can be no change in any article of the church’s belief without Parliamentary approval—and the House of Commons now contains almost every shade of opinion from Catholic to atheist. Two examples of this subordination may be given : (1) the suppression of Convocation in 1717 after Bishop Hoadley’s sermon—a suppression which lasted to 1852; and (2) the prolonged struggle to revise the Prayer Book, terminated in 1927 by Parliament’s firm rejection of the revised draft.
The opposite of Erastianism is theocracy (i.e. rule by God, through priests), and here the state is subordinate to the church. Calvin’s rule in Geneva was a thorough-going theocracy, for he directed foreign, economic and even military policy, and extended the criminal law until it covered almost every kind of sin.
These rival views are referred to in Barchester Towers in Chapter IV. In general, the high church party were theocratic; they wished to see the temporal power at least guided by the spiritual, and they were most anxious to extend and consolidate the power of the recently-permitted Convocation. The low church party cheerfully accepted the subordination of the church—though they were not anxious for the state to become any more powerful—and rather than resist the state, they preferred to carve out a new empire over men’s hearts and minds.
Returning to our historical survey, we note that in England, in the seventeenth century, the Anglican Church was temporarily eclipsed by the Presbyterian left-wing during the Civil War and the Commonwealth; but, after the Restoration in 1660, the Anglican Church again became supreme and began to persecute the Catholics on the one hand and the Puritans on the other. By now, the Puritans were known as Dissenters (i.e. those who dissented or disagreed) and they usually comprised the Presbyterian, Congregational, Baptist and Independent Churches.
In the eighteenth century, the Church of England gradually got out of touch with the needs of the people. Its clergy became (with some notable exceptions) slothful and unspiritual, tolerant of wide diversities of doctrine (latitudinarian), often indifferent to truth rather than honestly broadminded, and, in some cases becoming near to free-thinking.
The Evangelical Movement (evangel, the Gospels as the means of salvation) attempted to inject new spiritual life into the Anglican Church by carrying the message of salvation to all grades of people in a much more forcible and emotional way than previously. Led by John Wesley (1703-1791), the new movement soon had to break away from the Anglican Church and set up a new church organisation mid-way between Anglicanism and Calvinism. The main features of this new movement were: (1) a simplicity of religious service, (2) a great emphasis on conversion and salvation, (3) a democratic influence on the election and control of ministers, and (4) the setting up of Sunday Schools and the insistence on Sunday observance. The various groups following John Wesley were often called Methodists (from their methodical observance of religious duties), or non-conformists (i.e. those who did not “conform” to the doctrine and ritual of the Church of England and would not subscribe to the Thirty-nine Articles). Very soon, both the Puritan and the Methodist types of non-conformity began to be referred to generally as dissent.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Anglican Church was at a low ebb both materially and spiritually. However, after the Reform Act of 1832, much legislation amended the Church’s material position. In 1835, Sir Robert Peel appointed a special committee (or commission) to advise him on the administrative and financial reform of the Church of England. He was out of office when the commission reported, but Lord Melbourne, the then Prime Minister, accepted its main recommendations. Perhaps the most important of these was the setting up of an Ecclesiastical Commission to be in supreme charge of the Church’s revenues and property and to make recommendations to Parliament on specific reforms. Lord Melbourne set up this Ecclesiastical Commission in 1836, and, as he was himself a Whig, many of its members were likewise Whigs. In response to the Commission’s recommendations, the new reformed Parliament rapidly passed a series of acts:
(1) adjusting some of the vast discrepancies between clergymen’s salaries,
(2) fixing the salaries of many of the higher dignitaries,
(3) eliminating the grosser forms of pluralism and
(4) commuting tithes to cash payments.
Trollope represents the affairs of Hiram’s Hospital as being regulated by Parliament on the advice of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners as outlined above.
These measures constituted a major reform in the temporal affairs of the Church, but a spiritual reform was still needed. This came in two distinct movements. The first of these, in point of time, was also called the Evangelical Movement though it must not be confused with that initiated by Wesley in the preceding century. This movement began about 1820 and it was an attempt to reform the Anglican Church from within on the lines of the Wesleyan practice. It placed particular importance on the salvation of individual sinners as the end and aim of the church rather than on the preservation of its institutional authority and its priesthood; in addition, it urged Sunday observance, philanthropy and schemes of social reform. It was, in fact, about half-way in outlook between Anglicanism and Methodism. Men such as Sharp, Venn, Wilberforce and Shaftesbury belonged to it, and they were nicknamed the “Clapham sect”, because Venn was rector of Clapham. These men and their followers were the low church party, and readers of
must regard Dr. Proudie and Mr. Slope as representing the views of this party, but not as typifying all that was best in its spirit. (See the reference in Chapter XXXII, p. 284, to Dr. Trefoil being “of the old school”, i.e. pre-Claphamite.) Barchester Towers
The other branch of reform was begun by J. Keble (1792-1866), E. B. Pusey (1800-1882) and J. H. Newman (1801-1890) at
in 1833 and was later known as the Oxford Movement. It is also sometimes called the Tractarian Movement because of the various tracts published by its leaders. This movement stressed five things: Oxford
(1) the complexity and magnificence of church ritual and vestments,
(2) the importance of the sacraments,
(3) the close connexion and continuity of the Anglican Church with the Roman Catholic Church in doctrine, organisation and authority,
(4) the importance of the church as an authoritative and almost mystical institution, and, perhaps most important of all,
(5) the supremacy of the priesthood because of its divine ordination.
This was clearly an attempt to reform the Church from within by making it more like Roman Catholicism, but its energetic extremism soon made Newman realise that he could not remain in the Anglican Church; accordingly in 1845, he joined the Church of Rome and many followed him. Those supporters of these views who did not follow Newman into Catholicism remained within the Anglican fold and were the high church party. Mr. Arabin is a good example of this.
The term “Anglo-Catholic” is often used in religious discussions. This refers, to those who remained in the Anglican Church after Newman’s secession but who continued to maintain that Anglicanism was the true Catholicism. They refused to call themselves Protestants; and were, in fact, the extreme right wing of the high church group.
These two movements, the Evangelical and the Oxford, naturally caused a great deal of strife within the Anglican Church, but they made it alive both spiritually and intellectually, and the ultimate result was almost wholly good.
At the time of Trollope’s novel, 1857, there were thus three strands in the Anglican Church:
(1) those who had sympathy with Catholicism and wished to bring the doctrine and ritual of Anglicanism nearer to those of Romanism, without ceasing to be Anglican—these were the high church party and were usually associated with Oxford;
(2) those who had sympathy with Methodism and wished to imitate the evangelism and Sunday observances of the non-conformists, while still remaining Anglican—these were the low church party;
(3) those who wished to preserve the established Anglicanism as a middle-of-the-road church, without Roman or Dissenting tendencies but at the same time to tolerate a wide diversity of opinions and practices—these were the broad or liberal church party or, as they were sometimes called, the latitudinarians.
, Archdeacon Grantly, Mr. Arabin and Dr. Gwynne were high church; the Proudies and Mr. Slope were low church; given their various personalities, there was bound to be bitter conflict between these two groups. In general, the Stanhope family represents the latitudinarian view. Barchester Towers