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Trollope, Thou Shouldst Be Living At This Hour!

‘England hath need of thee,’ added Wordsworth in his plea, originally addressed to Milton. Oh, Anthony Trollope, if only we could turn to you now to champion the cause of the laity and common sense in the Church of England!


If youth is too valuable to be squandered by the young, perhaps the Church is too valuable to be entrusted to the priests as its sole guardians. Without seeking to go as far as the cartoon suggests in turning the priesthood into marionettes, operating only according to strings pulled by the laity, the present situation where the positions are reversed is not a happy solution either.  Keep the beard, but change the face into that of the present Archbishop of Canterbury. Forget the rest of the Anglican Communion for a moment, if the Church of England signs up to the Covenant, this will be the future governance of our Church, with the laity dancing to the Archbishop’s tune for eternity.


The present plan, according to information reaching me, is to tack discussion of the Covenant onto the end of the agenda for the General Synod in July, where it will be presented once again as a minor piece of ‘housekeeping’, almost an afterthought. What else comes before our lords and masters in July? Why, the issue of women bishops. Despite an overwhelming vote in favour throughout the country, approval of women bishops is by no means a foregone conclusion. Picture the scene. July may be hot and sticky. The delegates will doubtless drone on. Eventually (we hope) the appointment of women to the episcopate will be agreed. Tired, with falling blood sugar levels, and desperate to return to their hotels and a stiff gin, those present will sign almost any document put in front of them. However, before the meister spinners of Lambeth congratulate themselves too hard on the success of their prestidigitation, may I remind them of an earlier political genius from the other side of the Atlantic:

You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.

You do remember who said that, don’t you? Abraham Lincoln.


But, to return to our hero of the day. Why do I pick on Trollope rather than, say, Dickens? Well,  Trollope’s cast of characters comes from a much narrower range than does Dickens’. His body of work epitomises the relationship between the English people, their government, and their church. Of course, much has changed since Trollope’s day but the more things change, the more they stay the same. Trollope is said to have remarked:

The Church of England is the only church in the world that interferes neither with your politics nor your religion.

I have been unable so far to identify the source, but even if it is a case of se non è vero, è ben trovato, it does indeed capture the essence of Trollopianism.


The biographer of Anthony’s mother Fanny, Pamela Neville-Sington, wrote:

‘When he wrote his Barchester novels, Trollope did not look up at the sky but down at the earth.   He did not write about men’s spirituality but about their consciences.   He did not explore the clergy’s theological doctrines but their very human institutions.   This is why Trollope was so popular in his own day and why he remains so today.   His characters and their dilemmas are universal and still seem very real to us’.

 Trollopiana, Issue 75, 2006

But I have saved the best until last. I came across the following extract yesterday, which confirmed my thoughts about Trollope’s possible stand on the Covenant. It is one of those passages in which the author speaks as himself, the narrator makes his own position clear:

And yet it was from such a one that Mr Arabin in his extremest need received that aid which he so much required. It was from a poor curate of a small Cornish parish that he first learnt to know that the highest laws for the governance of a Christian’s duty must act from within and not from without; that no man can become a serviceable servant solely by obedience to written edicts;

Barchester Towers



The cartoon of Trollope dated 1872 is by Frederick Waddy (1848-1901), from made available under creative commons licence.

8 comments on this post:

UKViewer said...

Oh Dear, I’m so distracted by other business, that this brings me back to earth with a bump!

I’m still unsure of whether the ABC’s heart is in this, to me, it smacks more of York’s influence. It’s certainly on his agenda as he adjusts his position to see who will succeed the ABC if he chooses to retire early before the next Lambeth Conference!

Having the Covenant agreed and Women Bishop’s agreed, but not appointed would suit his agenda quite well.

I really can’t contemplate that there will be such a dishonest fudge at General Synod, I think that such a fudge would cause a huge fuss in Parliament (as we all bombard our MP’s with complaints) that we would be looking at disestablishment sooner, rather than later.

Anyway, I just wonder if parliament will assent to The Established Church, signing away its governance from the Supreme Governor to foreign leaders – there seems to a body of opinion that signing away such things is a bit unpopular at the moment.

Lay Anglicana said...

I am told that this is the current plan – to discuss the Covenant after the decision on women bishops in July. You may call that a fudge – ‘I couldn’t possibly comment’!

We do need to stir up the general population, certainly including parliament, because at the moment there is no indication that people would even notice. I still don’t see how our Archbishops can in good conscience do this without a pastoral letter being issued from every pulpit in the land.

08 January 2012 18:18
08 January 2012 16:44
John Scott said...

Laura did you read Alister McGrath on CS Lewis in Saturday’s Times “Beyond Narnia, the imaginative appeal of faith”…. I quote “Lewis is generally critical of the clergy in his writings. As a lay Christian, he came to see himself as representing a form of Christianity that recognised the crucial role of the laity, allowing neither clergy nor ecclesiastical institutions any special privleges.”

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you for the tip, John. I hadn’t seen the piece, so am particularly grateful. C S Lewis is my childhood hero, so it doesn’t surprise me that he took such a sensible viewpoint (from my point of view) but that that is another rich seam to mine.

08 January 2012 18:21
08 January 2012 18:11
Pam Smith said...

Who are the lords and masters you refer to?

I thought General Synod had quite a few lay people on it – as well as women of course!

As you know I agree wholeheartedly with you about the ‘Covenant’ (which isn’t really a Covenant is it?) but when did it become an ‘us and them’ issue with clergy as ‘them? Some of the most vociferous and well organised opponents happen to be ordained!

Lay Anglicana said...

‘Yes’ to your first point, and ‘absolutely’ to your second point. Glad to see you are paying attention, Reverend Pam!

General Synod, as you point out, has a sizeable lay contingent, though even if they voted as a bloc they are outnumbered by the priested.I also get the impression that, how shall I put it, some of them have ‘gone native’, ie can no longer be relied on to fight the lay cause.

On your second point, I think there may be a problem of syntax – what I am trying to get across is that many clergy (not my colleagues on the NACC of course, nor many others whom we know to be with us on the sidelines) are content to let the chips fall where they may. I have been told more times than I can now count by clergy who are so laid-back and Anglican that it is now counter-productive that whatever happens in Lambeth/York, it can cheerfully be ignored in Much Snoring In The Marsh. How do I make them see that the danger is real?

09 January 2012 09:21
09 January 2012 08:37
Pam Smith said...

I don’t know how this issue can be made to seem more urgent to people who are prepared to vote for it for a quiet life – I really don’t.

I think maybe the only way is to convince those who are currently pushing it forward that it will be more trouble than it’s worth – is there any legal ambiguity about whether such a thing can be passed and enacted?

Lay Anglicana said...

The legal question is above my paygrade, of course. However, I am bound to say that it seems very odd that Acts of Synod can be passed by General Synod without needing to refer to parliament, whereas Measures do have to be discussed in Westminster (I hope I have at last got that the right way round!). The clever Catch 22 is that Lambeth can decide on its own which are Acts and which are Measures. It seems that they can’t lose!

09 January 2012 20:43
09 January 2012 20:13

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