Another day, another apology from the Archbishop of Canterbury. Is this now his principal role? As Apologizer In Chief? Oh wait…that sounds familiar….yes, it’s only a few weeks since I wrote those very words when commenting on a previous ‘apology’. Good grief. Here we go again.
One has to ask – is there anything else left for the Church of England’s brow-beaten pew-fillers to apologize over? Well don’t worry – if you cannot bring anything to mind, one of our bishops is bound to turn up something from somewhere, with which we can bash ourselves over the head while crying ‘mea culpa, mea maxima culpa’ as we grovel in the dust of shame.
Perhaps His Muppetship has been reading my blog, as in the last post on an apology, I noted how all the admissions of guilt that gush forth from Lambeth Palace seem to be laced with ‘legalese’ and fluffy words designed to obscure the fact that the Church doesn’t actually want to be sued by anyone to whom it looks as if it is apologizing. Accordingly, the latest ‘apology’ is to be couched in a slightly different format than the previous ones. Instead of issuing statements or making speeches about The Guilt of The Church Over [insert current hot topic here], the Archbishop is proposing a ‘symbolic act of repentance’ – a service, in plain English – for next year.
This latest case does, however, set a high bar for even the CofE’s nonsensical guilt-apportioning. Yes, dear readers, the Church of England is now going to apologize for Something That It Did Not Do. In fact, it is going to apologize for Something That It Could Not Have Done in any case. Why? Because the events to which the admission of guilt relate, occurred centuries before the Church of England existed. Yes, you read that right. Church of England worshippers are now being urged to apologize for stuff that the CofE did not, or could not have, done.
What is this awful stuff over which we are now to assume our share of the guilt? Well it’s this: anti-semitism in England, 800 years ago. Yep. 800 years ago. 1222 AD, to be precise.
Now, before I go any further, let me make my position quite clear: anti-semitism is WRONG. It is an evil. Further, it is appalling that we are seeing a rise in anti-semitism in the UK in recent times – as elsewhere too. The causes are many, but all are unjustifiable. I do not intend to address the causes here. What I do have an issue with, however, is the use of a stance against anti-semitism as a virtue-signalling tool by the Church (or anyone else, for that matter). Let’s continue.
In 1222 AD, a meeting known as the Synod of Oxford was held, led by Stephen Langton, then Archbishop of Canterbury. Langton had been a prime mover at the Fourth Lateran Council in Rome in 1215 AD. This Lateran Council had come up with a range of regulations to control the Jewish population in Christian countries at that time. These included, amongst other things:
- Jews being required to wear a special form of dress, which would distinguish them from Christians;
- being banned from taking public office;
- being forbidden to go out during Holy Week;
- and they had a compulsory tax imposed on them, to be paid to the local Christian clergy.
None of us would argue that these regulations were anything but anti-semitic. The regulations were then supposed to be implemented in Christian countries through their own authorities. This is where the 1222 Synod of Oxford came in. Langton held the meeting and, in effect, brought the regulations into English life. So, here the English were, in 1222, faced with implementing these, and the rest of the regulations that the Lateran Council had decreed , to be enforced on the Jewish population. So far, so bad. What happened?
Well, let’s see. While preparing to write this piece, I did quite a bit of research on the web amongst Jewish websites, to see what the Jewish view of the 13th century looks like. It is an appalling fact that the Jews did suffer awful things in the medieval period, so I was keen to get the Jewish take on this. I found an interesting comment on the website http://www.jewishhistory.org . In their short comment on the Synod of Oxford, they say this:
In reality, the Oxford’s synods canons were not widely enforced or even enforceable in practice.
Right. Interesting. Let’s consider the influence of the Fourth Lateran Council. A written question, submitted to bishops during the Church of England’s General Synod last week, suggested that the Synod of Oxford’s imposition of the Lateran Council’s regulations in 1222 led directly to the expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290. But even in its comments on the Fourth Lateran Council, the website http://www.jewishhistory.org does not link the Synod of Oxford with the Edict of Expulsion of 1290. I bow to those who know more than I about these issues, of course, but one would surely expect a Jewish history site to highlight a link if one were clear. Nobody is defending the expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290, but is it correct to say there is a direct link with the Synod of Oxford? The link between the two events, separated by seventy years, is probably one for the historians to argue over. However, English law was not dictated solely by the Church in those days, although it did have great influence. Other forces also had input.
(We may note that this decree of expulsion was reversed by Oliver Cromwell in 1657. Yes, you read that right too. The Jews were welcomed back to England in 1657. As far as I know, they have prospered here ever since – and thank God for that. We may also add to this the fact that England and the rest of the UK have also been a haven for Jewish refugees ever since – not least during World War 2).
Here we reach the crucial point: the Church of England did not exist in 1222. England was a Catholic country at that time, and the Church was under the authority of the Pope. The Synod of Oxford was not a Church of England event. The Church of England, as we know it now, was not officially founded until that old bully Henry VIII was unable to get the Pope to grant him a convenient annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon (wife number one), 312 years after the Synod of Oxford. It was only in 1534 that the Church of England came into being. Why is the CofE apologizing for something that happened before it existed?
Of course, no reasonable person, let alone a Christian believer, can support the anti-Jewish regulations that were laid down in the medieval period (or in any other period). These were wrong, cruel and motivated largely by hate and fear. They also laid the foundations for such evils as beliefs about Jews desecrating the Host (the eucharist) or killing Christian children. None of this is defensible.
Dave Rich, of the Community Security Trust (CST), a charity which provides security to the UK’s Jewish community and which records anti-Semitic incidents, quoted in numerous media outlets said:
..at a time of rising anti-Semitism, the support and empathy of the Church of England for our Jewish community is most welcome as a reminder that the Britain of today is a very different place.
It certainly is. And I’m assuming that most Jewish folks don’t need an apology from the CofE to make them realize that Anglicans are not generally anti-semitic. We may also note that as well as the anti-semitic actions that befell our Jewish neighbours in England, there were also, at the same time, some pro-semitic activities in the country. For example, a House of Converts was established in England during 1233 as a refuge for Jewish people who had become Christians. Granted, a tax to pay for it was imposed on the Jewish community, but it is still an example of kindness and protection to Jewish people. During the 1240s, many wealthy Jewish people in London had had synagogues in their homes to get around the difficulty of obtaining a permit to build a synagogue. This must have been known to the English authorities, but was allowed to continue. When a number of Jews were imprisoned in London – and 18 executed – due to a false blood libel accusation (the death of a child in Lincoln was blamed on Jews there), it was Christian friars and a relative of the king who secured the release of the remaining prisoners, thereby saving their lives.
None of this excuses anti-semitism in the past, of course. But it makes one wonder what the point is of making an apology or engaging in an ‘act of repentance’ 800 years after the event. Are the Jewish people in the UK asking for an apology from the Church? Surely it goes without saying that the anti-semitic events of 800 years ago are not supported by current Christians? Let’s face it – millions of people don’t even know about the anti-semitic events of 800 years ago, let alone about the Synod of Oxford.
But here we are again, on the apology merry-go-round, with the CofE now trying to make itself look good in the eyes of the world by accepting guilt and/or responsibility for events that took place before it was even in existence. Who does this benefit? Where do we draw the line on accepting guilt for past events? When will we see an apology to women for forcing them, for hundreds of years, to promise to obey their husbands? Or an apology to the Catholic Church for burning various devout Catholics at the stake? Or an apology to religious foundations for the dissolution of the monasteries and the killing of many good monks and nuns? No? Thought not. (If I have missed such apologies, please will someone correct me).
The Bishop of Lichfield said this week:
‘We are exploring the idea of such a service to be planned in conjunction with the Council of Christians and Jews, as well as the potential for a liturgical resource that might be offered to local churches to model an appropriate symbolic repentance.’
Very nice, Bishop. But when is the Church going to ‘model’ a bit of activity on the issues that the man and woman in the pew want to experience from and in their churches? How about a bit of real or symbolic repentance from our leaders for destroying the Church over the last few decades with the world’s agenda? Instead, those poor pew-fillers are hit over the head at every verse end with every trendy hot topic imaginable. No Christian in the CofE can now hold a private opinion, er, privately. It seems that nowadays our disapproval of something must be manifested externally to prove that we disapprove of something, whether it’s taking the knee or wearing an ‘I’m an ally’ badge. When this happens in totalitarian states, we criticize it as going against freedom of belief or speech and compare it negatively to our own superior democratic values. Am I the only one who sees this sort of thing as the thin end of a very dangerous wedge for the whole of society?
How about the downtrodden in the pews starting to shout a bit? As I said in my last post, have a think about stopping your regular donations to the CofE. It is only by hitting the enlightened leadership of HMS Church of England (now fatally holed below the waterline) in the pocket that they may start to take some notice of ‘Disgusted, of Tunbridge Wells’.
Meanwhile, all together now….’Mea culpa, mea culpa…’