Over the past few weeks, we have looked at:
● The development of the concept of an Anglican Communion.
● The calling of the first Lambeth Conference in 1867.
● Huntington’s book in 1870, which led to the framing of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral.
● The second Lambeth Conference in 1878, which made the conference an institution rather than an event.
● And the third conference, in 1888, which formulated that Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral.
The rest of the Lambeth Conferences are worth looking at, if not in detail then at least to become aware of some of the topics they have discussed and debated, and to examine how they have shaped the Anglican Communion as we know it today.
In all there have been 14 Lambeth Conferences between 1867 and 2008:
In addition, there was a number of events in between the Lambeth Conferences that might have threatened Anglican unity, and political events that interrupted the calling of Lambeth Conferences. But the conferences, although delayed, still continued, and Anglican unity, though never anything but imperfect, has been maintained. These potentially disruptive events included:
● The disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1869.
● The decision by Archbishop Plunket of Dublin, Bishop Stack of Clogher and Bishop Welland of Down to consecrate a bishop for the Spanish Episcopal Reformed Church in 1894 despite strong misgivings and opposition within the Church of England.
● The Kikuyu Conference of 1913.
● World War I (1914-1918).
● World War II (1939-1945).
● The formation of the Church of South India in 1947.
● The ordination of women, first in ECUSA (now TEC) and then in other Anglican churches, and the subsequent formation of “continuing” churches.
● The consecration of the first women bishops.
● The consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003.
● The approval of the blessing of same-gender unions in the Diocese of New Westminster in Canada.
Today’s debates on human sexuality and homosexuality are posing the latest threat to Anglican unity. But has it always been so? The late Bishop Herbert Hensley Henson (1863-1947), when he was Bishop of Durham, once acknowledged that “under the description of ‘the Anglican Communion,’ there are gathered two mutually contradictory conceptions of Christianity.”
Yet, somehow, Anglican unity has been maintained since that first Lambeth Conference in 1867, and was strengthened by the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral (1886-1888).
The English theologian Paul Avis and the American J. Robert Wright have described Huntington’s book and the way it helped to shape the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral as “probably the most significant Anglican work on ecclesiology.”
According to Avis, the teachings of the Lambeth Conference merely “supplement the Quadrilateral.”
However, the range of topics that has been discussed at the Lambeth Conferences – and that, to some degree, has been reflected in the printed reports – has developed Anglican self-consciousness in the midst of great cultural diversity.
Appeal to All Christian People
From the beginning, Christian unity beyond the confines of Anglicanism has been one of the leading themes of the Lambeth Conferences. Outstanding among the moves on Christian unity is the Appeal to All Christian People issued by Lambeth 1920.
This appeal was addressed to all those throughout the world who had received Christian baptism, and it invited the Churches to seek unity together.
Bishop Herbert Hensley Henson … played a controversial but key role in steps towards Christian unity at the 1920 Lambeth Conference
The appeal was inspired, to a large measure, by Bishop Frank Weston (1871-1924). Earlier, both Weston and Charles Gore (1853-1932), the founder of the Community of the Resurrection and Bishop of Oxford, had expressed their doubts about calling the 1920 Lambeth Conference, and they had strongly voiced the view that the Bishop of Hereford, Herbert Hensley Henson, who was about to become Bishop of Durham, was a heretic.
Henson was a controversial bishop and had been in the public eye from 1892 after an outburst at a diocesan conference at which he referred to dissenting Protestant churches as “emissaries of Satan.” Yet, as a canon of Westminster Abbey, he was a vociferous advocate of inter-communion between the Church of England and all regular Protestant churches. According to the Church historian, Owen Chadwick, Henson was a theological liberal, who tried to “restate the doctrines of the Church of England in such a way that they will not offend intelligent men”. His nomination as Bishop of Hereford in 1917 and as Bishop of Durham in 1920 provoked what Henson himself called a “heresy hunt.”
(In the first of her Starbridge novels, Glittering Images, Susan Howatch carries a quotation from Henson’s letters at the beginning of each chapter. In the novel’s afterword, she acknowledges that the character of Bishop Jardine is based on Henson, although the unusual details of Jardine’s personal life are not part of Henson’s life story.)
Some years earlier, Weston also led the Anglo-Catholic protests after what he described as a “Pan-Protestant” communion at Kikuyu in 1913 after a mission conference drawing together representatives of the Church Mission Society and other evangelical, non-Anglican mission agencies working in Kenya, including Presbyterians.
Yet, despite Weston’s objections to what had happened at Kikuyu, he was seen going to the other extreme ten years later. At the 1923 Anglo-Catholic Congress in London, Weston succeeded in persuading the congress to send greetings to the Patriarch of Constantinople and to send what was described as “a respectful telegram of congratulation” to the Pope, who was addressed in the greetings as “The Holy Father.”
Despite their differences, Weston and Henson eventually came to the Lambeth Conference in 1920, and they sat down together at the same committee that produced that Appeal to All Christian People issued by the conference.
The Appeal is significant because it described all those who had undergone Trinitarian baptism as members of the Christian Church. In this statement, we can see Anglicans holding that the unity of the Church is grounded in the one baptism.
Anglicans have been the first to perceive the ecumenical significance of the mutual recognition by the Churches of common baptism.
The Appeal also recognised the authorisation of the Holy Spirit in the ministries of the non-episcopal churches. But it argued that the episcopate is a God-given instrument of unity and continuity that will enable God’s people to meet in the security of one Eucharist.
The 1920 Lambeth Conference also agreed that while maintaining the Book of Common Prayer as the Anglican standard of doctrine and practice, liturgical uniformity should not be required as a necessity throughout the Anglican Communion.
Three bishops from the Old Catholic Church in the Netherlands were present at that Lambeth Conference in 1920. The Old Catholic Church traces its beginnings to the mainly German-speaking groups that split from the Roman Catholic Church in the 1870s because they disagreed with the declaration of papal infallibility at the First Vatican Council (1869–1870), and an earlier group in the Diocese of Utrecht who had rejected papal authority since the 18th century. They removed the requirement for clerical celibacy in 1874 and had replaced Latin in the liturgy with the local languages by 1877.
The Society of Saint Willibrord was founded in 1908 with the aim of fostering closer relations between the Church of England and the Old Catholic Church. At first, its activities were aimed at promoting full communion between the two churches, a major step towards visible communion with other churches that came about a year after the 1930 Lambeth Conference with the Bonn Agreement (1931) between the Church of England and the Old Catholics of The Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland.
The Bonn Agreement established full communion between the Church of England and the Old Catholic Churches, and this full communion has since been extended to all member churches of the Anglican Communion.
The Bonn Agreement incorporates three statements:
● Each Communion recognises the catholicity and independence of the other and maintains its own.
● Each Communion agrees to admit members of the other Communion to participate in the Sacraments.
● Full Communion does not require from either Communion the acceptance of all doctrinal opinion, sacramental devotion or liturgical practice characteristic of the other, but implies that each believes the other to hold all the essentials of the Christian faith.
Classic statements of Anglican identity
Both the 1930 and the 1948 Lambeth Conferences provided classic statements of Anglican identity. The 1930 Lambeth Conference described the Anglican Communion as “a Commonwealth of Churches without a central constitution … a federation without a federal government.”
This is how the bishops at the 1930 Lambeth Conference defined the Anglican Communion:
The Anglican Communion is a fellowship, within which the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, of those duly constituted dioceses, provinces or regional Churches in communion with the see of Canterbury, which have the following characteristics in common:
● they uphold and propagate the catholic and apostolic faith and order as they are generally set forth in the Book of Common Prayer as authorised in their several churches;
● they are particular or national churches, and as such, promote within each of their territories a natural expression of Christian faith, life and worship; and
● they are bound together not by a central legislative and executive authority, but by mutual loyalty sustained by the common counsel of the bishops in conference.
Lambeth after World War II
Both World War II and the formation of the Church of South India in 1947 failed to disrupt the unity of the Anglican Communion.
The 1948 Lambeth Conference helped heal the terrible disruption brought about by World War II. It also issued another seminal statement on the dispersed nature of Anglican authority that is deservedly regarded as a classical definition of the nature of Anglicanism.
That statement is worth quoting in full:
“The positive nature of the authority which binds the Anglican Communion together is ... moral and spiritual, resting on the truth of the Gospel, and on a charity which is patient and willing to defer to the common mind.
“Authority, as inherited by the Anglican Communion from the undivided Church of the early centuries of the Christian era, is single in that it is derived from a single divine source, and reflects within itself the riches and historicity of the Divine Revelation, the authority of the eternal Father, the incarnate Son, and the life-giving Spirit. It is distributed among Scripture, Tradition, Creeds, the Ministry of the Word and Sacraments, the witness of the saints, and the consensus fidelium, which is the continuing experience of the Holy Spirit through his faithful people in the Church.
“It is this dispersed rather than a centralised authority having many elements which combine, interact with, and check each other; these elements together contributing a process of mutual support, mutual checking, and redressing of errors or exaggerations in the many-sided fullness of the authority which Christ has committed to his Church. Where this authority of Christ is to be found mediated not in one mode but in several we recognise in this multiplicity God’s loving provision against the temptations to tyranny and the dangers of unchecked power.”
The 1948 Conference also condemned the unilateral war-time decision by Bishop Ronald (“R.O.”) Hall of Hong Kong to ordain the Revd Florence Tim Oi Li (right) to the priesthood on 25 January 1944. She was ordained not because her bishop had strong principles about the ordination of women, but due to necessity – but because she was needed to serve Anglicans who had been cut off from the rest of the Church by the Japanese invasion of China.
(Incidentally, the Ming Hua Theological College in Hong Kong, which has sent a number of exchange students to the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, is named after Bishop Hall.)
Contraception and family planning
In 1958, the Lambeth Conference gave guarded approval to family planning and contraception, declaring “self-discipline and restraint are essential conditions of the responsible freedom of marriage and family planning …”
Fifty years earlier, in 1908, the bishops expressed alarm at the increasing availability of the “artificial restriction of the family.” The 1920 Lambeth Conference expressed grave concern and issued an “emphatic warning” against contraception. There was noticeable shift in attitude in 1930. However, by today’s standards, the 1958 resolution must be regarded as ground-breaking, coming ten years before Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Humanae Vitae [For Humanae Vitae see: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_25071968_humanae-vitae_en.html]
The 1968 Lambeth Conference noted the publication of the encyclical and, while expressing its appreciation of the Pope’s deep concern for the institution of marriage and the integrity of married life, it disagreed with his views on contraception and affirmed the two relevant resolutions passed 10 years earlier.
These statements (see Appendix 2) show how the Lambeth Conferences can move on moral issues from total opposition, to qualified acceptance, and then full acceptance. The change also reflects the changing of status of women in the world, and also within the Anglican churches.
In this change of opinion and teaching on contraception, we can see how the Anglican Church relies on the experience of the faithful members in working out its moral judgments. According to a leading Anglican ethicist, Professor Gordon Dunstan, it “exemplifies an instance in which the magisterium of the Church formulated and ratified a moral judgement made by a sort of Consensus Fidelium, for which a good theological justification was worked out ex post facto.”
As the former Bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries, has pointed out, this is a crucial indication of the nature of Anglican moral judgments. They are not simply laid down from on high. The official pronouncements of the Church must reflect the tested experience of the wider Christian community, particularly the experience of lay people.
That Lambeth Conference in 1968 also reflected the growing worldwide sense of the problems of the “Third World” and the chasm between the rich and poor nations and Churches. It established the Anglican Consultative Council. And the conference also accepted that women who had been ordained as “deaconesses” should be accepted as “deacons.”
The “irregular” ordination of eleven women as priests in the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia in 1974
Shortly after the 1968 Lambeth Conference, the ordination of women threatened a major rift within the Anglican Communion. Women were ordained in Hong Kong in 1971, in Canada in 1976 and in the United States (after several irregular ordinations starting in 1974) and in New Zealand in 1977.
The 1978 Lambeth Conference was unable to do more than accept that there was a variety of practice while affirming its commitment to the preservation of Anglican unity.
On the eve of the 1978 Lambeth Conference, Stephen Sykes published his The Integrity of Anglicanism, a book that marks the beginning of the current preoccupation with Anglican identity.
In the practice of Eucharistic hospitality, Anglicans show that we believe that the common baptism we share calls for unity in the Eucharist – for that is where the Body of Christ, to which we already belong by baptism, is most fully known.
The Eucharist, or Holy Communion, is the paradigm of koinonia and this concept – so fruitful in current ecumenical work – is particularly congenial to Anglicans. Anglicans have contributed to the ecumenical theology of communion, and this theology is particularly reflected in the document of the 1988 Lambeth Conference, The Truth Shall Set You Free.
The growing strength and confidence of the Anglican provinces in the developing world has intensified the centrifugal forces within the Anglican Communion.
At the 1998 Lambeth Conference, the battle lines were drawn up between first and second world liberals and third world conservatives over human sexuality, and the chasm opened even wider two years ago at the 2008 Lambeth Conference.
Statements over the decades
Over the past century, the Lambeth Conferences have also produced important statements on:
● drug abuse (1908).
● moral principles in economic life (1908).
● moral responsibility in politics (1908).
● war and peace (1897 – when war was decried as “a horrible evil” – 1920, 1930, 1968 – when the use of nuclear and bacteriological weapons were condemned “emphatically” and the right of conscientious objectors upheld – and 1978).
● human rights (1948, 1978).
● contraception (1908, 1920, 1930, 1958, 1968).
● social responsibility (1958, 1978).
● the family (1958).
● the ministry of the laity (1968).
● ecology (1968).
● sexuality and homosexuality (1988, 1998).
In 1968, Lambeth asked the member churches to consider whether the 39 Articles need to be bound up with the Book of Common Prayer and suggested that assent to the 39 Articles should no longer be required of ordinands, and suggested that where subscription is required and given, it is only in the context of setting them in their historical context.
An important reader for the 1998 conference produced by Chris Sugden and Vinay Samuel, Anglican Life and Witness, shows the variety of issues that confront Anglican life in our days:
● fascism and nationalism,
● the family,
● the Gospel and Culture,
● Christian faith an economics,
● trade and development,
● the impact of the market economy on the poor,
● business and corruption,
● the media and modernity,
● Christian feminism,
● population control,
● adolescence and youth ministry,
● accessible liturgy,
● genocide in Rwanda.
The stresses within the Anglican Communion have been increased by the different speeds at which the Anglican provinces are ordaining women as deacons, priests and bishops.
The acceptance of the notion of “impaired communion” between provinces that no longer enjoy a full, mutual recognition of ministries, because of this issue, called into question the reality of a coherent and unified Anglican identity. The possibility then arose of a diversity of interpretations of Anglican identity emerging within the Anglican Communion.
In addition, there have been serious questions about the continuing value of the Lambeth Conferences as they have evolved: their expense; their practical ineffectiveness; the English or Anglo-Saxon domination in the proceedings; and their limitation to bishops only. But as the conference came into being through a desire for consultation on common problems, we have not yet seen another effective way in which mutual responsibility can be totally exercised by the bishops of the Anglican Communion.
Instruments of Communion
Being in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury determines whether a bishop can be invited to the Lambeth Conference or a primate to the Primates’ Meeting. The Anglican Communion has what in the past were known as four instruments of authority or of union, or now known as Instruments of Communion:
● The Archbishop of Canterbury, who also calls the Lambeth Conference and chairs the Primates’ Meeting.
● The Lambeth Conference, which has met since 1867, and which has been meeting in Canterbury rather than in Lambeth since 1978. The last meeting was in 2008.
● The Primates’ Meeting, which has been held regularly since November 1979, and which last met in Alexandria in Egypt earlier last year (February 2009). The Nassau Draft (2007) of the Anglican Covenant – a set of principles intended to hold together the Anglican Communion despite differing viewpoints on human sexuality and biblical interpretation – proposed giving the Primates the task of monitoring the covenant.
● The Anglican Consultative Council was established at the 1968 Lambeth Conference. It first met at Limuru in Kenya in 1971 and then in Dublin in 1973. It is unique as the only international Anglican body with a constitution. It meets every two or three years. The Saint Andrew’s Draft (2008) of the Anglican Covenant proposed that the ACC should have the key task of monitoring the covenant. At its meeting in Jamaica on 1-12 May 2009, ACC-14 discussed the text of An Anglican Covenant - Ridley Cambridge Draft Text in depth, but expressed concern that Section 4 had not received the same depth of consultation with Provinces that the first three sections had. ACC-14 asked that a small working group should ‘consider and consult with the Provinces on Section 4 and its possible revision’, for approval by the Standing Committee. ACC-14 also renamed the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and of the Anglican Consultative Council (JSC) as the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion (SCAC) when it adopted the new constitution.
To these four, some would add others:
● The Anglican Secretary and the secretariat office; following a recommendation from Lambeth 1958, Bishop Stephen Barnes (1908-1974) was appointed the first Executive Officer of the Anglican Communion in 1960; the title of “executive officer” was changed to Secretary-General with the establishment of the ACC after Lambeth 1968. The present secretary general is Canon Kenneth Kearon of the Church of Ireland and a Canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. Recently, the President-Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, Bishop Mouneer Anis of Cairo, has accused the ACO of being “an office in the UK that tries to run the Communion in its own Western way.”
Bishop Mouneer Anis of Cairo in Christ Church Cathedral during a recent visit to Dublin
● The Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion (SCAC), formerly the Joint Standing Committee (JSC) of the Primates and of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC). The Ridley Cambridge Draft of the Anglican Covenant (2009) indicates that the JSC or its successor should have the key task of monitoring the covenant.
Canon Tim Dakin, General Secretary of the Church Mission Society (Britain), would add another instrument of communion: the mission societies – the missionary movement gave rise to the processes that led to the formation and formalisation of the Anglican Communion.
But the weakness here is that there is no overall or overarching structure linking the Anglican mission societies world-wide together. And you might as well talk about, say, the role of the Mothers’ Union in holding together a sense of Anglican identity around the world.
Indeed, to these we could, perhaps, add:
● Perhaps the Anglican Centre in Rome, established in 1966 (the previous director, Bishop John Fleck, who visited Dublin and Maynooth in 2007, was succeeded a year ago by the Very Revd David Richardson, a former Dean of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne).
● Perhaps, too, the Anglican Communion Observer at the United Nations. Since 2006, this post has been held by Helen Grace Wangusa, a lay woman from Uganda.
But there have been other events and congresses that had the potential of being instruments of unity in the Anglican Communion.
For example, these include the Congresses of Anglicans, open to laity, held in London in 1908, Minneapolis in 1954, and Toronto in 1963. The latter two, in particular, emphasised the important fact that the Lambeth Conferences could not be understood as being the sole voice of international Anglicanism.
These congresses helped many Anglicans to articulate and understand the variety and unity that are a part of the Anglican Communion.
And there are other Anglican instruments of authority.
There must be a significant place in the story of the development of the Anglican Communion and the search for a shared theology and for church unity in bodies such as ARCIC (the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission, once co-chaired by Archbishop Henry McAdoo of Dublin). ARCIC has since been replaced by the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission.
And there are other bilateral conversations, such as:
● The Anglican-Orthodox Dialogue, which has met in Ireland, produced the Dublin Statement of 1984, and produced another statement in Cyprus in 2007.
● The Covenant conversations between the Church of Ireland the Methodist Church in Ireland.
And there are the agreements that have shaped new, emerging communions in which Anglicans are playing a significant part:
● The Meissen Agreement between the Church of England and the Evangelical Churches in Germany.
● The Porvoo Agreement (1996) between the Anglican Churches in these islands and six of the Baltic and Scandinavian Lutheran Churches – it also includes the member Churches of the Anglican Communion in Spain and Portugal and the Church of England’s Diocese in Europe (which has cathedrals in Gibraltar, Brussels and Malta). But the Lutheran Churches in Denmark and Latvia do not have full membership, and it does not include the European Diocese of the Episcopal Church (TEC), known as the Convocation of American Churches in Europe (it has a bishop, a cathedral in Paris, and fifteen parishes and missions in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland).
● The Reuilly Agreement (1999) with the French Lutheran and Reformed Churches.
● The Concordat in North America between the Episcopal Church (TEC) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
● The Fetter Lane Agreement between the Anglican Churches and the Moravian Church in Britain and Ireland.
Paul Avis, in his book The Identity of Anglicanism: Essentials of Anglican Ecclesiology (London: T&T Clark/Continuum, 2007, pp 160-162), lists the principal sources (indicative rather than definitive texts) that are relevant to Anglican ecclesiology as:
● The historic formularies (i.e., the 39 Articles, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and the 1550/1662 Ordinal).
● The ecclesiological teachings of the Lambeth Conferences since 1867.
● The report of the Church of England’s Doctrine Commission, Doctrine in the Church of England (1938).
● Recent ecclesiological statements from the House of Bishops of the Church of England.
● The ARCIC Agreed Statements.
● The Dublin Agreed Statement (1984) of the international Anglican-Orthodox dialogue.
● The WCC Lima Statement, Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (1982).
● The WCC Faith and Order Commission statements on unity, including New Delhi (1961) and Canberra (1991).
● The Porvoo Communion Statement (1996).
● The writings of Richard Hooker summarised by P.E. More and F.L. Cross in their 1935 anthology Anglicanism (London: SPCK, 1935).
● The corpus of Anglican spiritual and theological writing anthologised in Love’s Redeeming Work edited by Geoffrey Rowell, Kenneth Stevenson and Rowan Williams (Oxford: OUP, 2004).
Next: At our next session we can ask some questions about the future direction and shape of the Anglican Communion, how it is going to hold together in the future, and look too at how this is part of the concerns raised in the Windsor Report and in An Anglican Covenant - Ridley Cambridge Draft Text. We shall look too at GAFCON, which met in Jerusalem in 2008, at the 2008 Lambeth Conference in Canterbury, at last year’s meetings of the Primates in Alexandria and the ACC (ACC-14) in Jamaica.
1930 Lambeth Conference definition of the Anglican Communion:
The Anglican Communion is a fellowship, within which the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, of those duly constituted dioceses, provinces or regional Churches in communion with the see of Canterbury, which have the following characteristics in common:
● They uphold and propagate the catholic and apostolic faith and order as they are generally set forth in the Book of Common Prayer as authorised in their several churches.
● They are particular or national churches, and as such, promote within each of their territories a natural expression of Christian faith, life and worship. And
● They are bound together not by a central legislative and executive authority, but by mutual loyalty sustained by the common counsel of the bishops in conference.
1948 Lambeth Conferences statement on the dispersed nature of Anglican authority (a classical definition of the nature of Anglicanism):
The positive nature of the authority which binds the Anglican Communion together is ... moral and spiritual, resting on the truth of the Gospel, and on a charity which is patient and willing to defer to the common mind.
Authority, as inherited by the Anglican Communion from the undivided Church of the early centuries of the Christian era, is single in that it is derived from a single divine source, and reflects within itself the riches and historicity of the Divine Revelation, the authority of the eternal Father, the incarnate Son, and the life-giving Spirit. It is distributed among Scripture, Tradition, Creeds, the Ministry of the Word and Sacraments, the witness of the saints, and the consensus fidelium, which is the continuing experience of the Holy Spirit through his faithful people in the Church.
It is this dispersed rather than a centralised authority having many elements which combine, interact with, and check each other; these elements together contributing a process of mutual support, mutual checking, and redressing of errors or exaggerations in the many-sided fullness of the authority which Christ has committed to his Church. Where this authority of Christ is to be found mediated not in one mode but in several we recognise in this multiplicity God’s loving provision against the temptations to tyranny and the dangers of unchecked power.
Lambeth Conference statements on contraception:
1908: The Conference regards with alarm the growing practice of the artificial restriction of the family, and earnestly calls upon all Christian people to discountenance the use of all artificial means of restriction as demoralizing to character and hostile to national welfare.
1920: The Conference, while declining to lay down rules which will meet the needs of every abnormal case, regards with grave concern the spread in modern society of theories and practices hostile to the family. We utter an emphatic warning against the use of unnatural means for the avoidance of conception, together with the grave dangers – physical, moral and religious – thereby incurred, and against the evils which the extension of such use threatens the race.
1930: Where there is a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, the method must be decided on Christian principles. The primary and obvious method is complete abstinence from intercourse (as far as may be necessary) in a life of discipline and self-control lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless in those cases where there is such a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, and where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence, the Conference agrees that other methods may be used, providing that this is done in the light of the same Christian principles.
1958: The Conference believes that the responsibility for deciding upon the number and frequency of children has been laid by God upon the consciences of parents everywhere: that this planning, in such ways as are mutually acceptable to husband and wife in Christian conscience, is a right and important factor in Christian family life and should be result of positive choice before God.
1968: [T]he Conference finds itself unable to agree with the Pope’s conclusion that all methods of conception control other than abstinence from sexual intercourse or its confinement to the periods of infecundity are contrary to the “order established by God.” It reaffirms the resolutions of the 1958 Conference of 113 and 115.
Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin. This lecture was delivered on 11 February 2010 as part of the Year III B.Th. course on Anglican Studies.