The State of the Church

  • H. Maynard Smith


Never did the Church appear more powerful than when Henry VII died. The Ecclesia Anglicana—I use the words in their mediaeval significance as denoting the clerical estate—was dominant in the land. It was part of an international body; it had sanctions and support outside the country; it had within privileges and immunities recognised by law and consecrated by custom. Its leading bishops were the counsellors of the king, whose Civil Service was largely staffed by ecclesiastics.1 The Church was enormously wealthy; it owned at least a fifth part of the land of England; its buildings were treasure houses, and every art was the handmaid of religion. Its services were necessary on all important occasions in life—at christenings, marriages and funerals. Its courts alone decided all matrimonial cases, and ratified or did not ratify all wills. Its courts, too, took cognisance of all transgressions of the moral law—the fornicator and the village scold might alike be summoned for punishment. The clergy almost entirely controlled education and hospitals, besides administering all charitable funds. Merchant guilds and craft guilds had their chapels and their chaplains, and the parish churches were the centres of social life.


Merchant Guild Parish Church Parish Priest Ecclesiastical Court Common Lawyer 
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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1963

Authors and Affiliations

  • H. Maynard Smith

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