1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Convocation

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CONVOCATION (Lat. convocatio, a calling together), an assembly of persons met together in answer to a summons. The term is more usually applied in a restricted sense to assemblies of the clergy or of the graduates of certain universities.

In the American Protestant Episcopal Church a convocation is a voluntary deliberative conference of the clergy; it has no legislative function, and like the convocation of a university, assembles primarily to discuss matters of common interest.

In England the name “convocation” is specifically given to an assembly of the spirituality of the realm of England, which is summoned by the metropolitan archbishops of Canterbury and of York respectively, within their ecclesiastical provinces, pursuant to a royal writ, whenever the parliament of the realm is summoned, and which is also continued or discharged, as the case may be, whenever the parliament is prorogued or dissolved. These assemblies consist of two Houses, an upper and lower. In the upper house sit the archbishops and bishops, and in the lower the deans and archdeacons of every cathedral, the provost of Eton College, with one proctor elected by each cathedral chapter and two by the beneficed clergy in each diocese in the province of Canterbury (in the province of York two proctors are elected by each archdeacon), with a prolocutor at their head. When and how this convocation originated is not historically clear. This much is known from authentic records, that the present constitution of the convocation of the prelates and clergy of the province of Canterbury was recognized as early as in the eleventh year of the reign of Edward I. (1283) as its normal constitution; and that in extorting that recognition from the crown, which the clergy accomplished by refusing to attend unless summoned in lawful manner (debito modo) through their metropolitan, the clergy of the province of Canterbury taught the laity the possibility of maintaining the freedom of the nation against the encroachments of the royal power. It had been a provision of the Anglo-Saxon period, the origin of which is generally referred to the council of Clovesho (747), that the possessions of the church should be exempt from taxation by the secular power, and that it should be left to the benevolence of the clergy to grant such subsidies to the crown from the endowments of their churches as they should agree to in their own assemblies. It may be inferred, however, from the language of the various writs issued by the crown for the collection of the “aids” voted by the Commune Concilium of the realm in the reign of Henry III., that the clergy were unable to maintain the exemption of church property from being taxed to those “aids” during that king’s reign; and it was not until some years had elapsed of the reign of Edward I. that the spirituality succeeded in vindicating their constitutional privilege of voting in their own assemblies their free gifts or “benevolences,” and in insisting on the crown observing the lawful form of convoking those assemblies through the metropolitan of each province.

The form of the royal writ, which it is customary to issue in the present day to the metropolitan of each province, is identical in its purport with the writ issued by the crown in 1283 to the metropolitan of the province of Canterbury, after the clergy of that province had refused to meet at Northampton in the previous year, because they had not been summoned in lawful manner; whilst the mandates issued by the metropolitans in pursuance of the royal writs, and the citations issued by the bishops in pursuance of the mandates of their respective metropolitans, are identical in their purport and form with those used in summoning the convocation of 1283, which met at the New Temple in the city of London, and voted a “benevolence” to the crown, as having been convoked in lawful manner. The existing constitution of the convocation of the province of Canterbury—and the same observation will apply to that of the province of York—in respect of its comprising representatives of the chapters and of the beneficed clergy, in addition to the bishops and other dignitaries of the church, would thus appear to be of even more ancient date than the existing constitution of the parliament of the realm.

From this period down to the eleventh year of the reign of Edward III. there were continual contests between the spirituality of the realm and the crown,—the spirituality contending for their constitutional right to vote their Contest between spirituality and crown. subsidies in their provincial convocations; the crown, on the other hand, insisting on the immediate attendance of the clergy in parliament. The resistance of the clergy to the innovation of the “praemunientes” clause had so far prevailed in the reign of Edward II. that the crown consented to summon the clergy to parliament through their metropolitans, and a special form of provincial writ was for that purpose framed; but the clergy protested against this writ, and the struggle was maintained between the spirituality and the crown until 1337 (11 Edward III.), when the crown reverted to the ancient practice of commanding the metropolitans to call together their clergy in their provincial assemblies, where their subsidies were voted in the manner as accustomed before the “praemunientes” clause was introduced. The “praemunientes” clause, however, was continued in the parliamentary writs issued to the several bishops of both provinces, whilst the bishops were permitted to neglect at their pleasure the execution of the writs.

The history of the convocation of the province of Canterbury, as at present constituted, is full of stirring incidents, and it resolves itself readily into five periods. The first period, by which is meant the first period which dates Five characteristic periods. from an epoch of authentic history, is the period of its greatest freedom, but not of its greatest activity. It extends from the reign of Edward I. (1283) to that of Henry VIII. The second period is the period of its greatest activity and of its greatest usefulness, and it extends from the twenty-fifth year of the reign of Henry VIII. to the reign of Charles II. The third period extends from the fifteenth year of the reign of Charles II. (1664) to the reign of George I. This was a period of turbulent activity and little usefulness, and the anarchy of the lower house of convocation during this period created a strong prejudice against the revival of convocation in the mind of the laity. The fourth period extends from the third year of the reign of George I. (1716) to the fifteenth year of the reign of Queen Victoria. This was a period of torpid inactivity, during which it was customary for convocation to be summoned and to meet pro forma, and to be continued and prorogued indefinitely. The fifth period may be considered to have commenced in the fifteenth year of the reign of Queen Victoria (1852).

During the first of the five periods above mentioned, it would appear from the records preserved at Lambeth and at York that the metropolitans frequently convened congregations (so called) of their clergy without the authority of a First
royal writ, which were constituted precisely as the convocations were constituted, when the metropolitans were commanded to call their clergy together pursuant to a writ from the crown. As soon, however, as King Henry VIII. had obtained from the clergy their acknowledgment of the supremacy of the crown in all ecclesiastical causes, he constrained the spirituality to declare, by what has been termed the Act of Submission on behalf of the clergy, that the convocation “is, always has been, and ought to be summoned by authority of a royal writ”; and this declaration was embodied in a statute of the realm (25 Henry VIII. c. 19), which further enacted that the convocation “should thenceforth make no provincial canons, constitutions or ordinances without the royal assent and licence.” The spirituality was thus more closely incorporated than heretofore in the body politic of the realm, seeing that no deliberations on its part can take place unless the crown has previously granted its licence for such deliberations. It had been already provided during this period by 8 Henry VI. c. 1, that the prelates and other clergy, with their servants and attendants, when called to the convocation pursuant to the king’s writ, should enjoy the same liberty and defence in coming, tarrying and returning as the magnates and the commons of the realm enjoy when summoned to the king’s parliament.

The second period, which dates from 1533 to 1664, has been distinguished by four important assemblies of the spirituality of the realm in pursuance of a royal writ—the two first of which occurred in the reign of Edward VI., Second
the third in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and the fourth in the reign of Charles II. The two earliest of these convocations were summoned to complete the work of the reformation of the Church of England, which had been begun by Henry VIII.; the third was called together to reconstruct that work, which had been marred on the accession of Mary (the consort of Philip II. of Spain), whilst the fourth was summoned to re-establish the Church of England, the framework of which had been demolished during the great rebellion. On all of these occasions the convocations worked hand in hand with the parliament of the realm under a licence and with the assent of the crown. Meanwhile the convocation of 1603 had framed a body of canons for the governance of the clergy. Another convocation requires a passing notice, in which certain canons were drawn up in 1640, but by reason of an irregularity in the proceedings of this convocation (chiefly, on the ground that its sessions were continued for some time after the parliament of the realm had been dissolved), its canons are not held to have any binding obligation on the clergy. The convocations had up to this time maintained their liberty of voting the subsidies of the clergy in the form of “benevolences” separate and apart from the “aids” granted by the laity in parliament, and one of the objections taken to the proceedings of the convocation of 1640 was that it had continued to sit and to vote its subsidies to the crown after the parliament itself had been dissolved. It is not, therefore, surprising on the restoration of the monarchy in 1661 that the spirituality was not anxious to retain the liberty of taxing itself apart from the laity, seeing that its ancient liberty was likely to prove of questionable advantage to it. It voted, however, a benevolence to the crown on the occasion of its first assembling in 1661 after the restoration of King Charles II., and it continued so to do until 1664, when an arrangement was made between Archbishop Sheldon and Lord Chancellor Hyde, under which the spirituality silently waived its long-asserted right of voting its own subsidies to the crown, and submitted itself thenceforth to be assessed to the “aids” directly granted to the Sheldonian compact. crown by parliament. An act was accordingly passed by the parliament in the following year 1665, entitled An act to grant a Royal Aid unto the King’s Majesty, to which aid the clergy were assessed by the commissioners named in the statute without any objection being raised on their part or behalf,[1] there being a proviso that in so contributing the clergy should be relieved of the liability to pay two subsidies out of four, which had been voted by them in the convocation of a previous year. In consequence of this practical renunciation of their separate status, as regards their liability to taxation, the clergy have assumed and enjoyed in common with the laity the right of voting at the election of members of the House of Commons, in virtue of their ecclesiastical freeholds.

The most important and the last work of the convocation during this second period of its activity was the revision of the Book of Common Prayer which was completed in the latter part of 1661.

The Revolution in 1688 is the most important epoch in the third period of the history of the synodical proceedings of the spirituality, when the convocation of Canterbury, having met in 1689 in pursuance of a royal writ, Third
obtained a licence under the great seal, to prepare certain alterations in the liturgy and in the canons, and to deliberate on the reformation of the ecclesiastical courts. A feeling, however, of panic seems to have come over the Lower House, which took up a position of violent antagonism to the Upper House. This circumstance led to the prorogation of the convocation and to its subsequent discharge without any practical fruit resulting from the king’s licence. Ten years elapsed during which the convocation was prorogued from time to time without any meeting of its members for business being allowed. The next convocation which was permitted to meet for business, in 1700, was marked by great turbulence and insubordination on the part of the members of the Lower House, who refused to recognize the authority of the archbishop to prorogue their sessions. This controversy was kept up until the discharge of the convocation took place concurrently with the dissolution of the parliament in the autumn of that year. The proceedings of the Lower House in this convocation were disfigured by excesses which were clearly violations of the constitutional order of the convocation. The Lower House refused to take notice of the archbishop’s schedule of prorogation, and adjourned itself by its own authority, and upon the demise of the crown it disputed the fact of its sessions having expired, and as parliament was to continue for a short time, prayed that its sessions might be continued as a part of the parliament under the “praemunientes” clause. The next convocation was summoned in the first year of Queen Anne, when the Lower House, under the leadership of Dean Aldrich, its prolocutor, Claim of Lower House to
sit inde-
challenged the right of the archbishop to prorogue it, and presented a petition to the queen, praying her majesty to call the question into her own presence. The question was thereupon examined by the queen’s council, when the right of the president to prorogue both houses of convocation by a schedule of prorogation was held to be proved, and further, that it could not be altered except by an act of parliament. During the remaining years of the reign of Queen Anne the two Houses of convocation were engaged either in internecine strife, or in censuring sermons or books, as teaching latitudinarian or heretical doctrines; and, when it had been assembled concurrently with parliament on the accession of King George I., a great breach was before long created between the two houses by the Bangorian controversy. Dr Hoadly, bishop of Bangor, having preached a sermon before the king, in the Royal Chapel at St James’s Palace in 1717, against the principles and practice of the nonjurors, which had been printed by the king’s command, the Lower House, which was offended by the sermon and had also been offended by a treatise on the Bangorian controversy. same subject published by Dr Hoadly in the previous year, lost no time in representing the sermon to the Upper House, and in calling for its condemnation. A controversy thereupon arose between the two houses which was kept up with untiring energy by the Lower House, until the convocation was prorogued in 1717 in pursuance of a royal writ; from which time until 1861 no licence from the crown was granted to convocation to proceed to business. During this period, which may be regarded as the fourth distinguishing period in the history of the convocations of the Church of England, Fourth
it was usual for a few members of the convocation to meet when first summoned with every new parliament, in pursuance of the royal writ, for the Lower House to elect a prolocutor, and for both houses to vote an address to the crown, after which the convocation was prorogued from time to time, pursuant to royal writs, and ultimately discharged when the parliament was dissolved. There were, however, several occasions between 1717 and 1741 when the convocation of the province of Canterbury transacted certain matters, by way of consultation, which did not require any licence from the crown, and there was a short period in its session of 1741 when there was a probability of its being allowed to resume its deliberative functions, as the Lower House had consented to obey the president’s schedule of prorogation; but the Lower House having declined to receive a communication from the Upper House, the convocation was forthwith prorogued, from which time until the middle of the 19th century the convocation was not permitted by the crown to enjoy any opportunity even for consultation. The spirituality at last aroused itself from its long repose in 1852, and on this occasion the Upper House took the lead. The active spirit of the movement was Samuel Wilberforce, Fifth
bishop of Oxford, but the master mind was Henry Phillpotts, bishop of Exeter. On the convocation assembling several petitions were presented to both houses, praying them to take steps to procure from the crown the necessary licence for their meeting for the despatch of business, and an address to the Upper House was brought up from the Lower House, calling the attention of the Upper House to the reasonableness of the prayer of the various petitions. After some discussion the Upper House, influenced mainly by the argument of Henry, bishop of Exeter, consented to receive the address of the Lower House, and the convocation was thereupon prorogued, shortly after which it was discharged concurrently with the dissolution of parliament. On the assembling of the next convocation of the province of Canterbury, no royal writ of exoneration having been sent by the crown to the metropolitan, the sessions of the convocation were continued for several days; and from this time forth convocation may be considered to have resumed its action as a consultative body, whilst it has also been permitted on more than one occasion to exercise its functions as a deliberative body. In 1865, under licence from the crown, the Convocations of Canterbury and York framed new canons in place of the 36th, 37th, 38th and 40th canons of 1603, and amended the 62nd and 102nd canons in 1888. In 1872 convocation was empowered by letters of business from the crown to frame resolutions on the subject of public worship, which resolutions were afterwards incorporated in the Act of Uniformity Amendment Act 1872.

As a deliberative body, convocation has done much useful work, but it suffers considerably from its unrepresentative nature. The non-beneficed clergy still remain without the franchise, but the establishment of Houses of Laymen (see Laymen, Houses of) for both provinces has, to a certain extent, secured the co-operation of the lay element. Several attempts have been made to promote legislation to enable the convocations to reform their constitutions and to enable them to unite for special purposes; in 1905 a bill was introduced into the House of Lords. It did not, however, get beyond a first reading. In 1896 a departure was made in holding joint sessions of both convocations, in conjunction with the two Houses of Laymen, for consultative purposes. This body is now termed the Representative Church Council, and it adopted a Constitution in November 1905. All formal business is transacted in the separate convocations. It is usual for convocation to meet three times a year.

The order of convening the convocation of the province of Canterbury is as follows. A writ issues from the crown, addressed to the metropolitan archbishop of Canterbury, commanding him “by reason of certain difficult and urgent affairs concerning us, the security and defence of our Church of England, and the peace and tranquillity, public good and defence of our kingdom, and our subjects of the same, to call together with all convenient speed, and in lawful manner, the several bishops of the province of Canterbury, and deans of the cathedral churches, and also the archdeacons, chapters and colleges, and the whole clergy of every diocese of the said province, to appear before the said metropolitan in the cathedral church of St Paul, London, on a certain day, or elsewhere, as shall seem most expedient, to treat of, agree to and conclude upon the premises and other things, which to them shall then at the same place be more clearly explained on our behalf.” In case the metropolitical see of Canterbury should be vacant, the writ of the crown is addressed to the dean and chapter of the metropolitical church of Canterbury in similar terms, as being the guardians of the spiritualities of the see during a vacancy. Thereupon the metropolitan, or, as the case may be, the dean and chapter of the metropolitical church, issue a mandate to the bishop of London, as dean of the province, and if the bishopric of London should be vacant, then to the bishop of Winchester as subdean, which embodies the royal writ, and directs the bishop to cause all the bishops of the province to be cited, and through them the deans of the cathedral and collegiate churches, and the archdeacons and other dignitaries of churches, and each chapter by one, and the clergy of each diocese by two sufficient proctors, to appear before the metropolitan or his commissary, or, as the case may be, before the dean and chapter of the metropolitical church or their commissary, in the chapter-house of the cathedral church of St Paul, London, if that place be named in the mandate, or elsewhere, with continuation and prorogation of days next following, if that should be necessary, to treat upon arduous and weighty affairs, which shall concern the state and welfare, public good and defence of this kingdom and the subjects thereof, to be then and there seriously laid before them, and to give their good counsel and assistance on the said affairs, and to consent to such things as shall happen to be wholesomely ordered and appointed by their common advisement, for the honour of God and the good of the church.

The provincial dean, or the subdean, as the case may be, thereupon issues a citation to the several bishops of the province, which embodies the mandate of the metropolitan or of the dean and chapter of the metropolitical church, as the case may be, and admonishes them to appear, and to cite and admonish their clergy, as specified in the metropolitical mandate, to appear at the time and place mentioned in the mandate. The bishops thereupon either summon directly the clergy of their respective dioceses to appear before them or their commissaries to elect two proctors, or they send a citation to their archdeacons, according to the custom of the diocese, directing them to summon the clergy of their respective archdeaconries to elect a proctor. The practice of each diocese in this matter is the law of the convocation, and the practice varies indefinitely as regards the election of proctors to represent the beneficed clergy. As regards the deans, the bishops send special writs to them to appear in person, and to cause their chapters to appear severally by one proctor. Writs also go to every archdeacon, and on the day named in the royal writ, which is always the day next following that named in the writ to summon the parliament, the convocation assembles in the place named in the archbishop’s mandate. Thereupon, after the Litany has been sung or said, and a Latin sermon preached by a preacher appointed by the metropolitan, the clergy are praeconized or summoned by name to appear before the metropolitan or his commissary; after which the clergy of the Lower House are directed to withdraw and elect a prolocutor to be presented to the metropolitan for his approbation. The convocation thus constituted resolves itself at its next meeting into two houses, and it is in a fit state to proceed to business.

The constitution of the convocation of the province of York differs slightly from that of the convocation of the province of Canterbury, as each archdeaconry is represented by two proctors, precisely as in parliament formerly under the Praemunientes clause.

There are some anomalies in the diocesan returns of the two convocations, but in all such matters the consuetudo of the diocese is the governing rule.

Bibliography.—Wilkins, Concilia Magnae Britannia et Hiberniae (4 vols. folio, 1737); Gibson, Codex Juris Ecclesiastici Anglicani (2 vols. folio, 1713); Johnson, A Collection of all the Ecclesiastical Laws, Canons and Constitutions of the English Church (2 vols. 8vo, 1720); Gibson, Synodus Anglicana (8vo, 1702, re-edited by Dr Edward Cardwell, 8vo, 1854); Shower, A Letter to a Convocation Man concerning the Rights, Powers and Privileges of that Body (4to, 1697); Wake, The Authority of Christian Princes over their Ecclesiastical Synods asserted, occasioned by a late Pamphlet intituled A Letter to a Convocation Man (8vo, 1697); Atterbury, The Rights, Powers and Privileges of an English Convocation stated and vindicated in answer to a late book of Dr Wake’s (8vo, 1700); Burnet, Reflections on a Book intituled The Rights, Powers and Privileges of an English Convocation stated and vindicated (4to, 1700); Kennet, Ecclesiastical Synods and Parliamentary Convocations of the Church of England historically stated and justly vindicated from the Misrepresentation of Mr Atterbury (8vo, 1701); Atterbury, The Power of the Lower House of Convocation to adjourn itself (4to, 1701); Gibson, The Right of the Archbishop to continue or prorogue the whole Convocation (4to, 1701); Kennet, The Case of the Praemunientes (4to, 1701); Hooper, The Narrative of the Lower House vindicated from the Exceptions of a Letter, intituled The Right of the Archbishop to continue or prorogue the Convocation (4to, 1702); Atterbury, The Case of the Schedule stated (4to, 1702); Gibson, The Schedule Reviewed, or the Right of the Archbishop to continue or prorogue the whole Convocation, cleared from the Exception of a late Vindication of the Narrative of the Lower House, and of a Book intituled The Case of the Schedule stated (4to, 1702); Hody, A History of the English Councils and Convocation, and of the Clergy’s sitting in Parliament (8vo, 1702); Wake, The State of the Church and Clergy of England in their Councils, Synods, Convocations, Conventions, and other Public Assemblies, occasioned by a book intituled The Rights, Powers and Privileges of an English Convocation (fol., 1703); Burnet, History of His Own Time (2 vols, folio, 1734), re-edited by Dr Martin J. Routh (6 vols. 8vo, 1833); Hallam, Constitutional History of England (3 vols. 8vo, 1832); Cardwell, Documentary Annals of the Reformed Church of England (2 vols., 1839); Cardwell, A History of Conferences and other Proceedings connected with the revision of the Common Prayer (8vo, 1841); Cardwell, Synodalia, a Collection of Articles of Religion, Canon and Proceedings of Convocation in the Province of Canterbury (2 vols. 8vo, 1842); Lathbury, A History of the Convocation of the Church of England (2nd ed., 8vo, 1853); Trevor, The Convocation of the two Provinces (8vo, 1852); Pearce, The Law relating to Convocations of the Clergy (8vo, 1848); Synodalia, a Journal of Convocation, commenced in 1852 (8vo); The Chronicle of Convocation, being a record of the proceedings of the Convocation of Canterbury, commenced in 1863 (8vo).  (T. T.; T. A. I.) 

  1. It had always been the practice, when the clergy voted their subsidies in their convocation, for parliament to authorize the collection of each subsidy by the same commissioners who collected the parliamentary aid.