on Wednesday, 5 July 2017 at 10.00 am by Peter Owen
categorised as Opinion
Colin Coward Unadulterated Love The Church of England – not fit for purpose
Ian Paul Psephizo Why bishops should throw away their mitres
This passage from Oliver Twist shows that, even when talking about a bishop’s distinctive dress, Dickens didn’t think that would be a mitre: “There are some promotions in life, which, independent of the more substantial rewards they offer, acquire peculiar value and dignity from the coats and waistcoats connected with them. A field-marshal has his uniform; a bishop his silk apron; a counsellor his silk gown; a beadle his cocked-hat. Strip the bishop of his apron, or the beadle of his hat and lace; what are they? Men. Mere men. Dignity, and even holiness too, sometimes, are more questions of… Read more »
It is time for mitres to be retired to the haberdashery of history. The only reason for wearing the costume of a medieval overlord is if one has pretensions to overlordship.
Colin Coward’s comments are extreme, to be sure, and he clearly has his reasons for them. But they did make me think about the way I was treated by laity, clergy, the bishop(s), and the diocese during 40 years of ordained parish ministry. In 1975 I was ordained into a church (Anglican Church of Canada) that was still led by men (then) who had been born and formed in the days when the church had power and influence and clergy were unassailable. The boom of the 1950s had convinced them that their influence was absolute. The place of women, gay… Read more »
Hmm, Ian Paul manages in his article to (a) personally insult the appearance of a bishop (who just happens to be female – surprise!), before (b) showing his disregard for Canon C27 (it seems the rules of the church only count if he agrees with them, in which instance they must be vigorously defended), and then (c) throwing in a spot of Marcionism with the whole ‘we’re New Testament not Old Testament people’ argument, rather than one based on how the witness of the whole canon might speak to us. Quite the trifecta… As an aside, whether or not mitres… Read more »
In my above comments, “wasting energy on ridiculous things” means that we spent so much energy resisting change and dealing with people who treated the church as the last bastion of misogyny, homophobia, and bigotry of all kinds, under the guise of “preserving” some kind of perceived heritage, however irrelevant, oppressive, or absurd. Don’t misunderstand me-I like and use the BCP and I appreciate the beauty of Anglican music, etc. Unfortunately these things were treated as more important than the Gospel and misused to further other agendas.
I find Ian’s style a bit abrasive, but I agree with his main point. We may want to kid ourselves into thinking that robes emphasize the office rather than the individuality of the person holding the office, but I think most people understand that episcopal robes are about emphasizing a power structure. In this as in so many other things, I find myself wondering ‘How did we get from the Sermon on the Mount to here?’ BTW, the first time I saw a Lutheran bishop I was delighted to see that he was wearing no special robes – just an… Read more »
Nothing appears more pompous to me, and redolent of secular rather than spiritual authority, than bishops in purple shirts, and wearing frilly sleeves and the quasi-academic dress of ‘choir habit’. Mitres, chasubles, stoles etc simply show their priestly and pastoral role, and cloak their personal distinctiveness in the impersonality of their order.
I agree with Fr Tony. lets make sure that Canon C 27 is taken seriously. Ian Paul’s article also links the notion to the abuse of power to dress. Abuse of power, whether horrific and manifest (Smythe, Ball) or more subtle is just as like to be carried out by ‘pastors’ in chinos, obsessing about leadership, as priests in chasubles. As for the mitre; yes, it probably looks a bit daft, but maybe that’s part of the point!
My grandfather’s antique chess set had flat-topped bishops. Now I know why,
Colin Coward is spot on. His writing is eloquent and courageous.
My experience in CoE parishes have been receiving lovely welcome and hospitality, feeling spiritually renewed and healing, if not healed. So I would say that the parishes and cathedrals where I’ve been welcomed are definitely “fit for purpose.” It’s the CoE hierarchy who are the problem, and no, collectively they are not “fit.” They seem to prioritize everything except the Gospel. They surely have forgotten that the Incarnation came as the Good News to all people everywhere, but especially the poor, the vulnerable, the outcast.
Re Fr. Tony, “…looking daft sometimes as an ordained person comes with the territory, as it probably should do!”
Nope, wearing a wacky suit does not signal gravitas, just wackiness.
Theology, not haberdashery, makes the anglo-catholic.
Perhaps bishops should fashion their dress on those humble ministers of a well-known diocese where the archbishop often wears a lounge suit with open collar when officiating at ‘meetings’ in Church. Other clergy are happy in shorts and a T-shirt. Sydney Diocese leads the way in sartorial simplicity, as well as misogyny, homophobia and general hatred. And not a mitre in sight.
Even in my short lifetime I can remember it was not the custom for TEC bishops to wear mitres, though a few did. The practice seemed to have changed in the 80s. As the learned article points out, they arrived late even in the pre reformation church (11th century) and then did not possess the grand shape and cost of those now being worn, latterly, in the CofE and elsewhere. TEC bishops routinely wear purple, and it is rare to see any wearing black, though this is of course the practice of many in the CofE (as well as the… Read more »
Personally I find it hard to grasp how we got from Jesus’ warnings in Luke 20:45-47 to copes, mitres and episcopal ‘thrones’.
FrDavidH, thanks for tarring everyone who believes in ‘sartorial simplicity’ with misogyny, homophobia and general hatred (I’m sure my fellow Canadian Rod Gillis really appreciates the guilt by association).
If bishops are behaving in a worldly and authoritarian manner, why are we blaming the hat rather than the person under the hat?
Rod Gillis: yes, it is theology that counts, but ‘gravitas’ is not the only thing that matters. Sometimes we are also called to signify joy, the fact that we are indeed ‘set apart’ for God’s work (not in a better way, but in a particular way), and even (whisper it quietly) God’s blessing and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on God’s people. I’m not sure why you think episcopal attire equates to a ‘wacky suit’ but even were that the case, it does not empty a bishop of theology to wear something other than plain clothes. There is a… Read more »
You do me an injustice, Mr Chesterton. I was simply pointing out the absence of mitres doesn’t automatically lead to humility and compassion. It is not the lack of episcopal head-gear that I find objectionable in Sydney, but their wish to spread malicious bigotry thoughout our Communion, mitres or not. Obviously, many others who believe in ‘sartorial simplicity” are to be respected.
We just had an “episcopal Requiem Mass” in Chichester Cathedral. The coffin was 7 ft long. Anyone guess why that was? Yes, you got it in one!
By co-incidence I am currently enjoying W.C. Jordan’s book, Europe In The High Middle Ages. Jordan’s (p. 242) includes an example of lewd marginalia from an illuminated Gothic manuscript. One of the marginal drawings is of a serpent wearing a mitre. Re Tim Chesterton, right on. It is important not to allow the assignment of inappropriate guilt to weigh heavy on one’s point of view. I think a simple syllogism would demonstrate the problem with Fr. David’s assertion. I am taken with Adam Armstrong’s comment (above July 5). The following line from his comment ( on Colin Coward) bridges with… Read more »
Ill informed, Evangelical (or, is it Latitudinarian?) rubbish! Obviously Mr. Paul has not read any of the inventories of vestments—copes and miters included—seized from cathedrals and parish churches by the Puritans during their brief theocratic dictatorship in the UK in the 1640s and 1650s. It is misleading to claim, as some Evangelical (as well as some Anglo Catholic) writers do, that prior to Pusey, Newman, Neale, et alia most Anglican parish churches and chapels were just bleak displays of Puritan-like severity. In America, it certainly was not the case. No far away Oxford dons, or groups of English Ritualist enthusiasts… Read more »
I don’t really mind one way or the other whether a bishop sports a mitre. But when I see ‘priests’ in ‘smart casuals,’ I experience a dread of encountering a church which obsesses about power, authority and, leadership far more than I do when I come across a dog collar, cassock alb and stole (with or without chasuble). The vestments I wear are not about me and my choices or desire to self express and in most cases they aren’t even mine.
Theology, not habdashery, makes the anglo Catholic.” Let us devotly hope that it is more than either. But, if mitres make those who wear them look clownish and foolish, maybe that’s not such a bad thing and maybe says something about how they should be seen – in part. After all, those who wear them are just like the rest of us. And what could be more foolish than thinking that abandoning mitres will do anything about our problems. Puritanism lives – it hasn’t worked in the past, it doesn’t work now, and it won’t work in the future. Just… Read more »
I have no problem with mitres.In fact Bishop Geoffrey Rowell whose funeral I attended yesterday was buried in his. But I rather think bishops wear cope and mitre at a variety of services, especially non sacramental ones when the simplicity of choir dress would be more appropriate.
“Even in my short lifetime I can remember it was not the custom for TEC bishops to wear mitres, though a few did.”–crs
You should have gotten out more as a kid. In the 1950s and 1960s I can’t remember a bishop who DIDN’T wear a miter for episcopal functions in our diocese (Western New York), or the other cathedrals I visited (New York City, for example.) It may have been different in some Low diocese, of course…
Funny how a post about ecclesiastical tat has attracted far more comment than Colin Coward’s profound reflections. But it’s perhaps a natural safety-valve, rather like Steve Bell’s portrayal of May’s leopard-print shoes or Major’s underpants. There is a subtle difference (perhaps too subtle for some people) between dressing up to draw attention to oneself, and dressing up in order to submerge one’s personality in the role. Paradoxically, the polo-shirt-and-chino look on a liturgical president has the effect of ‘making it all about him’ (and it’s nearly always him). As does the sporting of academic hoods as part of ‘choir habit’.… Read more »
Mr Hill, kindly look at any picture of bishops in formal settings where one might wear a mitre, and in the 7Os it was an obviously minority dress. My grandfather, father, two uncles, two brothers /were are all priests. My grandfather taught liturgics at Bexley Hall and was known as “High Church Seitz.” I attended an AC boarding school that had non-communicating Mass on Sundays.
“Perhaps the fascination with mitres and other episcopal fashion accessories is compensation for a feeling of political and administrative impotence.”
Let me take the opportunity to agree with Rod Gillis in his observation. It will not pertain in every case, of course, but I do think it describes something of the acceleration of wearing miters in TEC of recent.
Garry Lovatt writes, in response to theology, not haberdashery makes the anglo-catholic, “Let us devoutly hope that it is more than either.”
It can only be theology, nothing more.
“…if mitres make those who wear them look clownish and foolish…”
I prefer the term “pythonesque” . So much in our Anglican subculture(s) is like something out of a Monty Python sketch, don’t you find?
I’ve said for a long time that when it comes to biblical interpretation, Christians are all selective literalists. What is very clear from this discussion is that we’re also all selectively conservative. TA is radical in some things, but for the most part very, very conservative on what I would call ‘christendom’ issues (establishment, episcopacy, the trappings of office etc. etc.).
I apologize to Dr. Paul (and anyone else who may have been offended) for the sharpness of my comment. I lost my temper. It is so frustrating when people in some measure of authority and status in the Church repeat again and again old myths and misinformation about pre-Tractarian Anglican customs. I could scream: “Read Dr. Graham Parry, for heaven’s sake!” These mirror image, mutually reinforcing, myths have been promoted both by Evangelicals, and some Anglo Catholics, for over a century and it’s WAY PAST TIME they be put to rest. The new scholarship has clearly demonstrated that if seventeenth,… Read more »
“Mr Hill, kindly look at any picture of bishops in formal settings where one might wear a mitre, and in the 7Os it was an obviously minority dress. My grandfather, father, two uncles, two brothers /were are all priests. My grandfather taught liturgics at Bexley Hall and was known as “High Church Seitz.” I attended an AC boarding school that had non-communicating Mass on Sundays.” Dr. Seitz, I don’t doubt that your experience in 1970 is true, but with all respect, I don’t think it “proves” much. Bishop Lauriston L. Scaife (1948–1970) commonly wore a miter on certain occasions in… Read more »
Rod Gilis writes: “It can only be theology.”
How so? I must admit though that today it often seems to be in danger of being reduced to little more than an aesthetic.
Possibly, but you date yourself. (-:
I’m often reminded of Barbara Pym’s aphorism, “the continuing soap opera of anglocatholic parish life.” Seems to suggest there is a great deal more going on than just theology (or Monty Python?).
‘I prefer the term “pythonesque” . ‘
And that, Rod, made me snort coffee out of my nose this morning! Thank you for the best comment yet on the subject!!!
Re Garry Lovatt, It can only be theology because an articulation of one’s theological position is the most obvious benchmark of one’s theological position. Besides, who really knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? I mean, The Shadow knows, but otherwise who really knows? Am I dating myself again? Besides, dressing up in mitres, copes, sanctuary slippers, fiddle back chasubles and the like may indicate an anglo-Catholicism; on the other hand it may simply be be a costume party for Calvinists. Re Tim Chesterton, this one is for you buddy. It should be the Holy Hand-grenade sketch. No… Read more »
Re: Rod Gillis
“The Shadow knows” Yes, you date yourself again, but you forgot the squeaky door – or should that be the “Holy Door Squeak?” And you forgot vimpas too – I love the sound of that, vimpa.
BTW, not long ago I saw a photo of the bishops involved in the consecration of late nineteenth century Bp of Quebec. In vesture they were all over the lot, including one in Rochester and shimmer – and mitre!
“… a costume party for Calvinists” What a simply dreadful thought! But perhaps perilously close to the truth. We have landed on a point of agreement.
Thanks, Rod – I love that scene!
“Just because a bishop might not wear a miter in one situation does not mean s/he might not wear one in another context.” Nice try but nonsense. In 1970 only a very small percentage of TEC Bishops ever wore a miter. The practice would have been almost pythonesque west of the alleghenies, with 2 or 3 exceptions in Illinois/Wisconsin. It was unknown in the big diocese of Virgina and throughout the south. The warhorse bishop of FL who reigned for 40 years might have worn a miter, but typically episcopal bishops did not want to appear to the general public… Read more »
“Nice try but nonsense. In 1970 only a very small percentage of TEC Bishops ever wore a miter.” cseitz
And what empirical study of American Episcopal bishops’ practices do you base your claim, Dr. Seitz? Your subjective, emotional need for it to be “true”? What study do you point to? Please cite works and pages…
Colin Coward’s post is tremendously sad. Not wrong—just sad.