Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Foundations of the Anglican Church XIII

The murder of Archbishop
Thomas Becket
The dispute between Canterbury and York over Canterbury’s claim to a primatial jurisdiction over York and the northern dioceses flared up briefly in the reign of King Stephen but there were far more important issues facing England with the Crown being disputed between Stephen and the Empress Matilda, the daughter of Henry I.  This was a time of civil war as Stephen’s having grabbed the throne after the death of his uncle, Henry I, displaced the rightful heir, Henry’s daughter Matilida.  The Barons of England, and the Church as well, were divided in their allegiance.  The issue was, of course, whether a woman could inherit the throne but in this case Stephen’s claim was shaky for while he was  male, his claim to the throne was through his mother, the daughter of William the Conqueror. If a woman could not inherit the throne, her son had no right to it. Moreover, if one were to acknowledge a grandson’s claim through his mother, Matilda herself had a son whose claim would be stronger than Stephen’s—and who, in fact, did eventually succeed to the throne as Henry II.  But we are not only getting ahead of ourselves, we are wandering away from our main point—the contested claims of Canterbury and York and their involvement of the papacy in the dispute.  If faithless to the oath that he swore to Henry I to support his daughter Matilda as Queen, Stephen was otherwise a pious man, especially so when it came to the rights of the Church.  William of Corbeil, Archbishop  of Canterbury, had also ignored the oath he had sworn to Henry to support Matilda, and crowned Stephen in Westminster Abbey on the day after Christmas, 1135.  Archbishop Thurstan of York also supported Stephen’s claim against Matilda. When William of Corbeil died in 1137, Canterbury remained empty for two years until Stephen appointed Abbot Theobald of Bec the new Archbishop.  Despite this appointment, Theobald and Stephen were not to have a good relationship as the Archbishop found himself in conflict with the King’s brother, Henry, who was Bishop of Winchester. Winchester was supposedly suffragen to Canterbury, but Bishop Henry played on being the King’s brother and ignored his Metropolitan Archbishop. The King was caught between his brother and his Archbishop. Stephen also had difficulties with the See of York as King and Pope could not agree on a candidate to serve as Archbishop and candidates proposed by each were refused by the other.  Nevertheless, the issue of primacy remained on a backburner during this time until the realm was more settled with Stephen’s death and the accession of Matilda’s son, Henry of Anjou as Henry II.
During the reign of Henry II the issue of Canterbury’s claim to primacy was inextricably tied to Archbishop Thomas Becket whose turbulent relationship with the King made things way more complicated than they needed to be.  In 1163 both Becket and Roger de Pont l’Evȇque, the Archbishop of York, attended a papally convened council at Tours and argued over who was to be seated senior to whom.  After three wasted days of arguing, Pope Alexander III placed them in places of equal dignity which was a loss to Canterbury’s claim of primacy.  To add insult to injury, the following year Alexander named Roger a papal legate though he exempted Becket’s archdiocese from Roger’s legatine authority.  When Alexander did declare Canterbury to be Primate in 1166, Roger—as papal legate—still held senior honors.  Three weeks later Becket also was named a papal legate, but his authority did not extend over Roger’s Archdiocese.  This left matters somewhat at a draw as far as Roger and Becket personally were concerned, but in fact gave Becket’s Archdiocese a leg up with a recognized primacy.  Roger’s legateship would expire on his death, as would Becket’s, but the primacy did not expire but passed down to the succeeding archbishops. 
Roger infuriated Becket four years after Canterbury was named a primatial see when he, Roger, crowned Henry’s son, Henry, King.  This was in the midst of Becket’s dispute with King Henry and although it was not an unusual practice at the time to crown the successor while the king still lived, King Henry had explicitly designed the coronation of the prince by the Archbishop of York to be a slap at Becket as it was Canterbury’s prerogative to crown the monarch. 
Roger for his part aggravated Becket further by having his (Roger’s) archepiscopal cross carried before him wherever he was in England.  This practice has been discontinued only recently in the Vatican II reforms, but historically a bishop had a second processional cross carried immediately before him in a procession in his own diocese.  An Archbishop would have the cross, in this case specially designed with two crossbars, carried before him throughout his province—that is, in the dioceses suffragen to  him. By having his archepiscopal cross carried before him not only in his own Province of York but also in the Canterbury Province, Roger was claiming a jurisdiction in Becket’s territory.  Finally Pope Alexander had to intervene and demand that Roger stop this provocation.
The battle of the crosses continued, however, under the successors of Roger and Becket, Geoffrey of York and Hubert Walter of Canterbury. Each had his cross carried before him in the other’s province as well as his own and each appealed to King Richard, Henry’s son and heir, for the authority to do so.  Richard declined and referred the matter to Rome.  It was only in the fourteenth century when the Avignon Pope, Innocent VI (1352-62) confirmed the right of each prelate to have the cross carried before him throughout England and gave York the title: Primate of England while giving Canterbury the slightly higher title: Primate of All England.  After the schism under Henry VIII, Parliament enacted a bill giving Canterbury the higher position.  And so it still stands.  The chief winner in this dispute between Canterbury and York was the papacy to which both appealed and which used those appeals to further establish papal power over matters in the English Church. 

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