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100 years ago: Dangerous novelties

03 February 2023

February 2nd, 1923

AMONG our Anglican inconsistencies is this, that bishops who have no love for the ancient and prescribed ceremonial of the Church are themselves the first to devise upon occasion entirely new ceremonials, often of a very incongruous and misleading kind. Of this the recent ceremonies at Plymouth are typical. Usually, and fittingly, a suffragan bishop enters quietly upon his work, which is that of assisting the diocesan. Not so at Plymouth, where the ceremonies were so devised as to give the impression that he was being given an all but independent jurisdiction. There can be in a diocese but one bishop’s throne, which gives its name and its rank to the cathedral church. But at Plymouth a sham throne has been set up in a parish church. A suffragan-bishop cannot be enthroned, so at Plymouth the entirely new ceremony of installation was invented, and it followed upon his institution to the rectory of Stoke Damerel, the unreal overshadowing the real. There was a kind of porrectio instrumentorum, a staff and a pectoral cross were solemnly delivered to the Bishop-suffragan, who seems from the accounts in the local papers to have been ceremonially set in the quasi-throne. These are dangerous novelties. The Bishop of Exeter’s sermon was a plea for unity in the Church. His lordship would doubtless censure those of his clergy who threatened unity by reviving old ceremonies, however venerable and edifying. Yet his own action in devising new ceremonies which give an exaggerated importance to the status of an assistant bishop is equally subversive of unity.

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