(CEN) Patrick Whitworth–A new history of the English church

Writing a history of the English Church from earliest times(200AD) until the outbreak of the pandemic last year was a project which gave pause for thought. I did it for three reasons.

Firstly, it had not been done for at least forty years. As an ordinand I read a book by the Bishop of Ripon, J.R.H Moorman, entitled A History of the Church in England first published in 1963 and ending in the post WWII era. And, a little more recently David Edwards, one-time Provost of Southwark Cathedral, had published a three-volume work entitled Christian England in 1984. His work ended with WW1. So, it seemed that it was time for a new work bringing the church’s story (by which I mean all denominations and none) up to date; and at the same time extending its remit. Like them, I kept it to the English Church, not thinking myself competent to include and write about the varied histories of the Welsh, Scottish and Irish Churches too.

The second reason was that in recent years there has been a great deal of interest in what it means to be English, connected of course with the political question of the destiny of England in or outside the EU. Much ink has been spilt on the meaning of being English, by the likes of Jeremy Paxman The English or the historian Robert Tombs The English and Their History, Andrew Marr, The Making of Modern Britain and A.N.Wilson’s Our Times . Given this upsurge of interest in being English I thought it timely to re-state the thesis that you cannot understand our history, our nation without understanding the profound influence of the church and of Christianity on it, and, to be more explicit, the teaching and life of Jesus.

Indeed, it was a monk, the Venerable Bede, who first gave the name English to the Saxon kingdoms. And over time, Vikings, Norman French, the Huguenots, the Irish and Jews would be added to the mix before 20thcentury immigration got going: while the Celts would be pushed to the West (Wales), and South West of Scotland marching with the Picts. And even now, as a nation goes to the polls (on so called Super Thursday), we can see the delineation of these ethnic groupings today. But to understand the English you must understand the history of the church in this nation: the illumination and coherence it brought to a group of warring Saxon kingdoms; as well its struggles, its sins, its failures, its aspirations and its deep divergences which can be very hard to understand. In all this we have recently been vividly helped by Tom Holland’s Dominion which demonstrates, from a shrewd and sympathetic observer, the profound and seemingly permanent shaping of our national life by Jesus of Nazareth.

The third reason for writing is that, as an historian of some academic training, I have been around the subject for fifty years since degrees in history and theology from Oxford and Durham- reading up since then some four hundred titles on English history whilst working for forty years as a stipendiary clergyman in suburban, urban, rural and Urban Priority parishes….

Read it all and you can read more about the author there.


Posted in Books, Church History, Church of England (CoE), England / UK, History, Religion & Culture