1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Confirmation of Bishops

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22258801911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 6 — Confirmation of Bishops

CONFIRMATION OF BISHOPS. In canon law confirmation is the act by which the election of a new bishop receives the assent of the proper ecclesiastical authority. In the early centuries of the history of the Church the election or appointment of a suffragan bishop was confirmed and approved by the metropolitan and his suffragans assembled in synod. By the 4th canon of the first council of Nicaea (A.D. 325), however, it was decreed that the right of confirmation should belong to the metropolitan bishop of each province, a rule confirmed by the 12th canon of the council of Laodicaea. For the appointment of a metropolitan no papal confirmation was required either in the West or East; but the practice which grew up, from the 6th century onwards, of the popes presenting the pallium (q.v.), at first honoris causa, to newly appointed metropolitans gradually came to symbolize the licence to exercise metropolitan jurisdiction. By the 8th and 9th centuries the papal right of confirmation by this means was strenuously asserted; yet as late as the 13th century there were instances of metropolitans exercising their functions without receiving the pallium, and it was not till after this date that the present rule and practice of the Roman Catholic Church was definitively established (see Hinschius, Kirchenrecht, ii. p. 28 and notes). The canonical right of the metropolitan to confirm the election of his suffragans was still affirmed by Gratian; but from the time of Pope Alexander III. (1159–1181) the canon lawyers, under the influence of the False Decretals, began to claim this right for the pope (Febronius, De statu ecclesiae, 2nd ed., 1765, cap. iv. § 3, 2). From the 13th century onwards it was effectively exercised, though the all but universal practice of the popes of reserving and providing to vacant bishoprics, initiated by Clement V., obscured the issue, since in the case of papal nominations no confirmation was required. The question, however, was raised, in connexion with that of the papal reservations and provisions, at the councils of Constance and Basel. The former shelved it in the interests of peace; but the latter once more formulated the principle that elections in the churches were to be free and their result confirmed according to the provisions of the common law (juxta juris communis dispositionem), i.e. by “the immediate superior” to whom the right of confirmation belonged (Febronius, op. cit. Appendix, p. 784).

In England, where the abuse of provisors had been most acutely felt, the matter was dealt with during the vacancy of the Holy See between the deposition of John XXIII. at Constance (May 1415) and the election of Martin V. (November 1417). During the interval the only possible way of appointing a bishop was by the ancient method of canonical election and confirmation. Shortly after the deposition of John XXIII., Henry V. assented to an ordinance that during the voidance of the Holy See bishops-elect should be confirmed by their metropolitans (Rotuli Parliamentorum, iv. p. 71); but the ordinance was not recorded on the Statute Roll. Three bishops only, namely, John Chaundeler of Salisbury, Edmund de Lacey of Hereford and John Wakering of Norwich, were confirmed by the archbishop of Canterbury during the papal vacancy. When Martin V. was elected pope in 1417 he resumed the practice of providing bishops, and from this time until the Reformation the canonical election and confirmation of a bishop in England was a rare exception.

In Roman Catholic countries the complete control of the papacy over the election and appointment of bishops has since the Reformation become firmly established, in spite of the efforts of Gallicans and “Febronians” to reassert what they held to be the more Catholic usage (see Gallicanism; Febronianism; Bishop).

In England at the Reformation the share of the papacy in appointing bishops was abolished, but the confirmation became almost formal in character. By 25 Hen. VIII. c. 20, s. 4, it is provided that after an episcopal election a royal mandate shall issue to the archbishop of the province “requiring him to confirm the said election,” or, in case of an archbishop-elect, to one archbishop and two bishops, or to four bishops, “requiring and commanding” them “with all speed and celerity to confirm” it. This practice still prevails in the case of dioceses which have chapters to elect. The confirmation has usually been performed by the archbishop’s vicar-general, and, in the southern province, at the church of St Mary-le-Bow, London; but since 1901 it has been performed, in part, at the Church House, Westminster, in consequence of the disorder in the proceedings at Bow church on the confirmation there of Dr Winnington Ingram as bishop of London. All objectors are cited to appear on pain of contumacy after the old form; but although the knowledge that opposition might be offered has been a safeguard against improper nominations, e.g. in the case of Dr Clarke the Arian, confirmation has never been refused since the Reformation. In 1628 Dr Rives, acting for the vicar-general, declined to receive objections made to Richard Montague's election to the see of Chichester on the ground that they were not made in legal form. An informal protest against the confirmation of Dr Prince Lee of Manchester in 1848 was almost immediately followed by another in due form against that of Dr Hampden, elect of Hereford. The vicar-general refused to receive the objections, and an application to the queen’s bench for mandamus was unsuccessful, the judges being divided, two against two. In 1869, at the confirmation of Dr Temple’s election as bishop of Exeter, the vicar-general heard counsel on the question whether he could receive objections, and decided that he could not. When the same prelate was elected to Canterbury, the course here laid down was followed, as also at the confirmation. of Dr Mandell Creighton’s election to the see of London. Objections were again raised, in 1902, against Dr Charles Gore, elect of Worcester; and an application was made to the king’s bench for a mandamus against the archbishop and his vicar-general when the latter declined to entertain them. By a unanimous judgment (February 10) the court, consisting of the lord chief justice (Lord Alverstone) and Justices Wright and Ridley, refused the mandamus. Without deciding that objections (e.g. to the identity of the elect, or the genuineness of documents) could never be investigated by the vicar-general or the archbishop, it held that they could not even entertain objections of the kind alleged. At the confirmation of Dr Cosmo Gordon Lang’s election as archbishop of York, held in the Church House on the 20th of January 1909, objections were raised on behalf of the Protestant Truth Society to the confirmation, on the ground that the archbishop-elect had, while bishop suffragan of Stepney, connived at and encouraged flagrant breaches of the law as to church ritual, taken part in illegal ceremonies, and the like. The objectors were heard by the archbishop of Canterbury and the other commissioners in chambers, the decision being that, in accordance with the judgment of the court of king’s bench above cited, the objections could not lawfully be received since they did not fall within the province of the commissioners. The archbishop also pointed out that the form of citation (to objectors) had been modified since 1902, but suggested that it was “a matter for consideration Whether the terminology of the citation could be altered so as to bring everything into complete accordance with the law of the Church and realm” (see The Times, January 21, 1909). Formerly the archbishop had the right of option, i.e. of choosing any one piece of preferment in the gift of a bishop confirmed by him, and bestowing it upon whom he would; but this has been held to be abolished by a clause in the Cathedral Act of 1840 (3 & 4 Vict. c. 113, s. 42). And the election of a dean by a cathedral chapter used to receive the bishop’s confirmation (Oughton, Ordo Judiciorum, No. cxxvii.).

Authorities.—L. Thomassin, Vetus et nova disciplina, pars. ii. lib. ii. tit. 1-4 (1705–1706); E. Gibson, Codex juris ecclesiastici anglicani, tit. v. cap. i. (1761); W. H. Bliss, Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland, vols. i.-vii. (London, 1893–1906); John Le Neve, Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae (Oxford, 1854); R. Jebb, Report of the Hampden Case (London, 1849); Sir R. J. Phillimore, Ecclesiastical Law, pp. 36-47 (London, 1895); art. “The Confirmation of Archbishops and Bishops” in the Guardian for January 20, 1897, pp. 106-107; “Judgment in the Gore Case,” in the Guardian for February 12, 1902, pp. 234 ff.