*** DEBUG END ***

From the archive: William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury

06 November 2017

The Church of England this week remembers Archbishop William Temple, who died on 26 October 1944. Here is the obituary published in the Church Times on 3 November 1944

Lambeth Palace

William Temple by Philip de Laszlo (1934)

William Temple by Philip de Laszlo (1934)

Brilliant career of a unique personality

BY THE death of the Archbishop of Canterbury the whole world is the poorer; a truly great figure has passed from the English scene. Church and nation alike have lost a great leader and a prophet of authentic fire; the poor and inarticulate everywhere are deprived of a true and understanding friend.

Temple was a national figure of a stature unsurpassed in contemporary life and not easily matched in history. The only man of the day with whom he was comparable was Winston Churchill. As the one who has led the nation through great darkness and unknown perils to the dawn of victory, so the Archbishop was the leader to whom people looked with complete confidence to bring every spiritual strength to bear in impressing the character of Christian realism on the life and purpose of post-war England. It can rarely be said with truth that a loss is irreparable or that a man is indispensable. Both things can be said now with simple, unaffected truth.

Judged by any standard William Temple was an Englishman to be numbered with the greatest. That he should be lost to the Church on earth at a time when it is in need of a leader with just such gifts of mind and heart and spirit as those with which Dr Temple was richly endowed, is an event which in the purely human view seems starkly tragic.

Father and Son

The Archbishop had occupied the see of Canterbury for two-and-a-half years only, but in that short time he had kindled new fire within the Church and won for it the attention and the growing respect of the secular world.

The Most Rev. and Right Honourable William Temple, P.C., D.Litt., D.D., LL.D., D.C.L., was born on October 15, 1881. He was the second son of Frederick Temple, at that time Bishop or Exeter, and one of his great-grandfathers, who was also in Holy Orders, moved in the circle of Dr Johnson, Reynolds and Goldsmith. More than most men was William Temple indebted to his father, for, as the published correspondence of father and son shows, the early inclination to philosophical thought of the adolescent youth was greatly simulated and disciplined by the elderly and scholarly parent. It is likely, also, that William Temple’s deep and unflagging concern for social justice had its seeds in his father’s indignation at the wretched conditions in what the agricultural labourers and other poor people in Devonshire were being forced to live.

William Temple inherited a great name and a lofty conception of Christian duty. He added lustre to both. What might have proved a handicap to many another young man — in being a schoolboy with the Primate of All England for his father — did not hinder or soften William Temple. At Rugby, where he entered with a scholarship, Dr David, later to be his suffragan as Bishop of Liverpool in the Province of York, was his master. He departed thence for Balliol College, Oxford, as an exhibitioner, and there and then began that deep and almost passionate attachment to the University which coloured his judgment of most men and many causes throughout the rest of his life.

From Oxford to Repton

He exulted in the life of Oxford and entered with gusto into the activities it offered. In 1904 he was president of the Union. At the same time he contrived without much apparent effort to take a First in Classical Mods, and a First in Greats. On taking his degree in 1904 he was immediately elected to a fellowship at Queen’s College and to a college lectureship in philosophy. He at once showed himself possessed of that brilliant power of lucid exposition of Which thereafter, as teacher, preacher, writer and broadcaster, he was to exhibit steadily increasing command.

It was not until he had reached his twenty-seventh year that he took the decision to seek Holy Orders. He was ordained in 1908 on the title of his fellowship. In the same year began the sixteen years of his presidency of the Workers’ Educational Association, which he joined as an undergraduate on its foundation five years before by Dr Albert Mansbridge. Two years later he resigned his fellowship in order to take service as chaplain with Randall Davidson, who had ordained him. But almost immediately he was appointed headmaster of Repton. Schoolmastering was not his true metier and his four years at Repton must be reckoned a brilliant tour de force.

His popularity with the boys was due to the unforced kinship with young people which he retained all through his life. His sermons in school chapel paid his hearers the compliment of demanding concentrated attention, and it was in part due to the solicitation of the boys at Repton that the volume of Repton School sermons was published. While Temple was headmaster of Repton it was announced in the press that he had been appointed rector of St. Margaret’s, Westminster. But the appointment had to be rescinded, because to St. Margaret’s is annexed a canonry in Westminster Abbey, for which Temple did not possess the statutory qualification of six years in Holy Orders.

Church and State

He came to London eighteen months later as rector of St. James’s, Piccadilly, a post which was to provide him with his sole experience of parochial work. Much of his time at this period was given to the National Mission of Repentance and Hope, and in 1916 he undertook the editorship of the Challenge, which had been started a few months before the outbreak of war with high hope of harnessing the technique of modern illustrated journalism to the progressive movements in the Church. But Temple had already too many interests to enable him to devote himself fully to the careful nursing of such an enterprise and so, to the disappointment of many of his friends, the paper petered out.

Something much better suited to his gifts and temperament was afoot, namely, the committee on Church and State which the two Archbishops had appointed in 1913 at the request of the Representative Church Council (forerunner of the Church Assembly). Temple was a member of the committee, the main function of which was “to inquire what changes are advisable in order to secure in the relations of Church and State a fuller expression of the spiritual independence of the Church as well as of the national recognition of religion”.

“They Must Explode”

These were large words and the committee, of which Temple was a member, anticipated in its report the disappointment which was felt at the discovery that the greater part of the committee’s labours had been devoted to the single point of devising a system of Church councils, and considering how they might gain “reasonable freedom to carry through legal and effective action on behalf of the Church.” None can say what the effect of the report would have been but for William Temple. He saw the public disclosure of the paralysis which the Church was suffering as a challenge. He set himself to win life and liberty for the English Church.

Heeding little the caution counselled by Gore, to whom he always looked as to a master, and gathering around him a group of like-minded enthusiasts, he rented an office in the Haymarket and began his campaign for the education of Members of Parliament. He went up and down the country addressing meetings, and everywhere his watchword was “Without delay.” Randall Davidson, who began by being highly suspicious of the new movement, ended by accepting it, and expounded with convincing power the merits of the resulting Enabling Bill in the second reading debate in the House of Lords. At the outset Temple had written to the Archbishop — alluding to his followers, which included H. R. L. Sheppard— “The War and the National Mission have brought them to boiling point: it is a psychological necessity that they should explode.”

Bishop of Manchester

The National Assembly of the Church of England would, presumably, have been formed in any event; but it was due largely to the drive and determination of Temple and his commanding leadership, together with Davidson’s statesmanship and prestige, that parliamentary powers were procured for the Assembly. The title “Life and Liberty “ was the happy invention of Dr David Temple was the leader chosen by the group of men which had met to discuss what was to be done about the failure of the National Mission.”

The enactment of the Enabling Bill and the creation of the Church Assembly with delegated parliamentary powers was a constitutional innovation of the first importance. It marked also an important stage in Temple’s career, raising his reputation very high and making him probably the most influential figure in the Church. Before the Bill had received the Roya l Assent, Temple had for a second time been selected to fill a vacant stall in Westminster Abbey; this time that held by Canon Pearce, now to be Bishop of Worcester. But he was not to remain long at the Abbey, for when, next year, Knox retired from the bishopric of Manchester, Temple was named as his successor. Nobody was in the least surprised that, as a man still under forty, he should reach the bench of bishops.

None of his friends doubted that if he would stick to his new job, and not be lured into a hundred-and-one other activities, he would make a big success. In fact, he applied himself with great diligence to the work of the diocese. He at once set about its division, and accomplished it in five years. Throughout the seven years he ruled the diocese he was a true Father-in-God. Whatever tended to the promotion of the work of the Church had his support. Thus he accepted the presidency of the Anglo-Catholic Congress on the two occasions it was held in Manchester, and remained for years president of its diocesan committee.

Seven Years of Happiness

Manchester was the scene of seven of the happiest years of Temple’s life. It gave valuable scope for his, interest in industrial relations and the relevance to them of the Christian philosophy. His deep interest in C.O.P.E.C. developed in this period; but it would be a mistake to think of him as absorbed in problems of the application of Christian principles, to citizenship, economics and politics to the exclusion of other humane and religious interests. He was a leading figure in the Edinburgh Missionary Conference and later at the International Missionary Conference held in Jerusalem in the spring of 1928. Moreover, he conducted missions to undergraduates at Oxford and imparted new vitality to the annual Blackpool sands mission. No aspect of life in his diocese was without his touch, whether it*were in college, factory, conference hall or theatre. And all the time the flow of books from his pen continued, most of the work being done in the odd snatches of time between interviews and engagements, which lesser men fritter away with a cigarette.

Firmly rooted as he showed himself in the Anglican tradition and doctrine, he none the less was ready to break new ground in co-operation with other Christian bodies; and as a member of the Council of Christian Congregations in his diocese took an active part in promoting measures of social improvement. In 1926, after Archbishop Davidson’s proposed broadcast on the General Strike was vetoed by the B.B.C., Temple took a leading part with’ other bishops in trying to bridge the gulf between coal-miners and coalowners.


Mr. Baldwin, then Prime Minister, deeply resented what he regarded as mischievous interference. None the less, it was he who recommended to the Crown the translation of the Bishop of Manchester to the see of York in succession to Dr Lang, who at the same time became Archbishop of Canterbury. Though the choice seemed obvious enough once it was announced, there was much speculation beforehand, for there were other outstanding men who were felt to have some claim to the succession.

As Archbishop of York Temple came to be recognized as the almost equal partner of Dr Lang in authority arid wisdom. His was a dominating personality at the Lambeth Conference of ‘1930, two years after his becoming Primate of England. It was from that time that .he became identified, as its leader, with ;the (Ecumenical movement, which expressed itself in a variety of activities.. Many Churchmen were uneasy at what they feared was a forcing of the pace — not so much at any actual sacrifice of principle, as at the endangering of it when a masterful hand such as Temple’s was removed.

On the intellectual plane there belongs to this period the remarkable Gifford Lectures published under the title: “Nature, God and Man.” It was the first time that an archbishop had been a Gifford Lecturer, and it remains one of the wonders of Temple’s powers that he was able in the midst of so many other exacting labours to produce a highly original philosophical work which would of itself been enough to establish the reputation of any lesser man. Temple also presided over the Doctrinal Commission and brought to bear on issues of great perplexity his astonishing power of devising a synthesis from unpromising material.

He excelled as a chairman. Lord Quickswood has testified to the remarkable qualities he brought to that office in the Church Assembly. Space will not allow mention of all the important committees over which he presided, but mention must be made of the Central Council for Adult Broadcast Education and the Central Advisory Council for Religious Broadcasting, over both of which he presided to their lasting advantage.

The Malvern Conference

Dr Temple’s greatest achievement in this field was the Malvern Conference which he convened in 1941. It was attended by a score of bishops and some four hundred of the clergy and laity. But though there were so many collaborators the resultant findings were almost entirely the archbishop’s, and truth to tell, had little precise relation to the speeches made. Possibly for that reason they were published separately! In his Gifford Lectures Temple had laid stress on the materialism of a religion founded on the Incarnation of God, and Malvern expressed, in a form, that could be easily assimilated, concepts of the Church’s social duty which though not new were freshly, and, indeed, arrestingly put.

On Dr Lang’s relinquishing the see of Canterbury there was no doubt in the mind of the ordinary Churchman that Temple would succeed him. There were, however, strong^ currents flowing to prevent the accession to the place of highest influence a prelate who had been an avowed Socialist, and had evoked bitter hostility among certain elements in the, worlds of business and finance. There were also those who argued that a second translation from York might harden into a precedent.

A National Archbishop

Dr Temple was enthroned in Canterbury Cathedral on St. George’s Day 1942, vested in magnificent cope and mitre. The occasion was of widespread national interest: the whole country was aware that a man of unusual character was to guide the destinies of the national Church. Immediately after his enthronement the Archbishop, with Dr Garbett — who had been translated from Winchester to York —embarked on a series of joint meetings organized by the Industrial Christian Fellowship, by way of following up the Malvern Conference. These events are too recently in memory to need any description. They stiffened the distrust in which the Archbishop was held in some mercantile circles, and alarmed some of the more conservative and oldfashioned among the clergy. But they were all part of his resolute determination to speak the truth fearlessly and to have no truck with vague and benevolent generalities.

Of the Archbishop’s deep spirituality his modesty, humility, sense of fun; of his great learning, the vast range of his intellect, and his astonishing power of getting to the heart of any problem presented to him, much has been said elsewhere. His greatness was inseparable from his goodness. He failed often in his judgement of men, and was often inclined to take them at their own valuation. His Platonic mind prevented his realizing that men did not necessarily accept the truth merely because it had been presented to them, and so he was unpractised in the arts of persuasion. For him it seemed enough to expound the truth for it to command assent and consequent action. The extent and quality of Dr Temple’s literary output will ever remain a cause for wonder. The mere physical feat in itself was considerable, but to have produced works of weight and learning while pursuing a life of intense and extremely responsible activity is something unexampled.


The Church Times Digital Archive is available free to all post and online subscribers.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Forthcoming Events


Church Times/RSCM: 

Intercultural Church for a Multicultural World

28 May 2024

A Church Times/Church House Publishing webinar

Tickets are FREE


Church Times/Modern Church:

A Political Faith?

Monday 3 June 2024

This panel will explore where Christians have come to in terms of political power and ask, where should we go next?

Online tickets available


Church Times/Modern Church:

Participating in Democracy

Monday 10 June 2024

This panel will explore the power of voting, and power beyond voting.

Online tickets available


Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards


Church Times/Canterbury Press:

Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

Early bird tickets available



Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)