ANGLICAN social theology, the thinking behind the Church of
England's commitment to reforming society as a whole, is sometimes
labelled as "the Temple tradition" (as it is in the recently
published Anglican Social Theology, edited by Malcolm
Brown). On the 70th anniversary of his death (Sunday 26 October),
it is worth examining who Temple was, and why he was so important
in this area.
William Temple was the son of a Victorian Archbishop of
Canterbury, Frederick Temple. When William became Archbishop in
1942, it was the only time a son had followed his father in that
William received a privileged upbringing at Rugby School and
Oxford, and started his career as a lecturer in philosophy at that
university. But during these years he was drawn into a different
world through the Workers' Educational Association (WEA), which
brought together university teachers and workers in co-operative
He later said that this work, and especially his contact with
the founder of the WEA, Albert Mansbridge, was one of the most
formative experiences of his life. "As a personal matter . . . he
invented me." He maintained his involvement with the WEA for many
years, serving as its president from 1908 to 1924.
Temple was ordained, and, after a spell as a not very successful
headmaster of Repton School, became Rector of St James's,
Piccadilly, then a Canon of Westminster, and then Bishop of
Manchester in 1921, at the age of 40. He published extensively, was
caught up in the Life and Liberty movement (campaigning for the C
of E to be able to govern its own affairs away from Parliament),
and began to develop his distinctive social theology.
Manchester diocese was then the most populous outside London. As
he travelled through its industrial towns, Temple saw the acute
social and economic hardships faced by the majority of the
population. Those who worked in the mills faced harsh regimes, and
those who were unemployed had no social security or health care;
nor was there education beyond the age of 11, except for a few.
Want, disease, squalor, ignorance, and idleness were scourges in
Temple was not going to sit idly by. He convened the Conference
on Politics, Economics and Citizenship (COPEC), which met in
Birmingham in 1924 with 1400 delegates from different churches.
Its importance was that it weaned the Church's leadership away
from high Tory attitudes to an acceptance of the Christian case for
huge social reform and the development of a welfare state. Temple
himself coined the term "welfare state" in lectures in 1928. He
contrasted the "power state" of the pre-war Prussian nation, in
which the state coerced its citizens for its own ends, with the
"welfare state", in which the individual was primary, not society,
and "the State exists for the citizen, not the citizen for the
IN 1929, Temple became Archbishop of York. He combined pastoral
work with lecturing, campaigning, and writing his popular
Readings in St John's Gospel. He sought to communicate a
vision of the whole of life - religious, personal, economic,
political - with Christ at the centre as the one who makes sense of
the whole and illuminates it with his truth. He also became more
and more involved with the ecumenical movement, helping to plan the
World Council of Churches. Had he survived the war, it is extremely
likely that he would have been its first president.
When war with Germany was declared in September 1939, Temple
made a BBC radio broadcast to the nation in which he avoided the
kind of jingoism preached at the start of the First World War. As
became clear afterwards, he captured the mood of many in the
country: one of "deep determination to fulfil a necessary but
hateful duty". This broadcast turned Temple into a national leader.
There was now little doubt that he would become the next Archbishop
of Canterbury, and this duly happened in April 1942.
Temple and his wife moved into a bomb-damaged Lambeth Palace in
London, and he fulfilled his duties while putting up with air raids
by night and, later, flying bombs by day. His means of travel was
on crowded buses and trains in the blackout.
THE social and economic needs of the population were very much
in his mind, and he started asking what kind of society Britain
should become once the war was over. In 1942, he published a slim
Penguin Special, Christianity and Social Order, which
quickly became a bestseller, selling 142,000 copies. With radical
clarity, he set out the fundamental Christian principles that
should govern the way a society organised its life, and drew out
some of the practical implications of these principles.
He was guided in his policy recommendations by William
Beveridge, the civil servant who put plans in place for the
post-war welfare state, and the pre-eminent economist John Maynard
Keynes, among others. The popularity and influence of the book has
led to Temple's being described as one of the architects of the
He also made some widely publicised remarks on the banking
system, suggesting that the government should put curbs on profits,
and restrictions on the issuing of credit by banks. The remarks
were disliked by financiers, but again showed Temple challenging
the current order in favour of a fairer post-war world.
Then, in 1944, he gave crucial backing to R. A. Butler's
Education Act, which for the first time set up a national system
that would include both state and church schools, and would raise
the school leaving age to 15. Temple backed the Act because he saw
this last measure as crucial for the population as a whole.
TEMPLE died of a heart attack on 26 October 1944. This was
barely two-and-a-half years after becoming Archbishop of
Canterbury. He was not to see Allied victory in the war, nor was he
to assist with social and economic reconstruction afterwards.
But he had provided a vision of what a better society could look
like, and, in his social theology, provided it with deep
foundations. He won over many of the churchgoing middle classes,
those who would subsequently pay for the welfare state through
taxation. He is regarded by church historians as the most
influential Archbishop of Canterbury of the 20th century; hence
"the Temple tradition".
Dr Stephen Spencer is the author of William Temple: A
calling to prophecy (2001) and the forthcoming Christ in
All Things: William Temple and his writings (Canterbury Press,
2015). The William Temple Foundation is organising a conference in
Manchester on Monday 10 November to examine the place of faiths in
developing a just society