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Lambeth Conferences

The Lambeth Conferences was the name given to the periodical assemblies of bishops of the Anglican Communion (Pan-Anglican synods), which since 1867 have met at Lambeth Palace, the London residence of the archbishop of Canterbury.

The idea of these meetings was first suggested in a letter to the archbishop of Canterbury by Bishop Hopkins of Vermont in 1851, but the immediate impulse came from the colonial Church in Canada. In 1865 the synod of that province, in an urgent letter to the archbishop of Canterbury (Dr Longley), represented the unsettlement of members of the Canadian Church caused by recent legal decisions of the Privy Council, and their alarm lest the revived action of Convocation "should leave us governed by canons different from those in force in England and Ireland, and thus cause us to drift into the status of an independent branch of the Catholic Church."

They therefore requested him to call a "national synod of the bishops of the Anglican Church at home and abroad," to meet under his leadership. After consulting both houses of the Convocation of Canterbury, Archbishop Longley assented, and convened all the bishops of the Anglican Communion (then 144 in number) to meet at Lambeth in 1867.

Many Anglican bishops (amongst them the archbishop of York and most of his suifragans) felt so doubtful as to the wisdom of such an assembly that they refused to attend it, and Dean Stanley declined to allow Westminster Abbey to be used for the closing service, giving as his reasons the partial character of the assembly, uncertainty as to the effect of its measures and "the presence of prelates not belonging to our Church."

Archbishop Longley said in his opening address, however, that they had no desire to assume "the functions of a general synod of all the churches in full communion with the Church of England," but merely to "discuss matters of practical interest, and pronounce what we deem expedient in resolutions which may serve as safe guides to future action." Experience has shown how valuable and wise this course was. The resolutions of the Lambeth Conferences have never been regarded as synodical decrees, but their weight has increased with each conference. Apprehensions such as those which possessed the mind of Dean Stanley have long passed away.

Seventy-six bishops accepted the primate’s invitation to the first conference, which met at Lambeth on September 24 1867, and sat for four days, the sessions being in private. The archbishop opened the conference with an address: deliberation followed; committees were appointed to report on special questions; resolutions were adopted, and an encyclical letter was addressed to the, faithful of the Anglican Communion. Each of the subsequent conferences has been first received in Canterbury cathedral and addressed by the archbishop from the chair of St Augustine. It has then met at Lambeth, and after sitting for five days for deliberation upon the fixed subjects and appointment of committees, has adjourned, to meet again at the end of a fortnight and sit for five days more, to receive reports, adopt resolutions and to put forth the encyclical letter.

Table of contents
1 First Conference (September 24-28, 1867)
2 Second Conference (July 2-27, 1878)
3 Third Conference (July 3-27, 1888)
4 Fourth Conference (July 5-31, 1897)
5 Fifth Conference (July 6-August 5, 1908)

First Conference (September 24-28, 1867)

Convened and presided over by Archbishop Longley. The proposed order of subjects was entirely altered in view of the Colenso case, for which urgency was claimed; and most of the time was spent in discussing it. Of the thirteen resolutions adopted by the conference, two have direct reference to this case; the rest have to do with the creation of new sees and missionary jurisdictions, commendatory letters, and a voluntary spiritual tribunal in cases of doctrine and the due subordination of synods. The reports of the committees were not ready, and were carried forward to the conference of 1878.

Second Conference (July 2-27, 1878)

Convened and presided over by Archbishop Tait. On this occasion no hesitation appears to have been felt; 100 bishops were present, and the opening sermon was preached by the archbishop of York. The reports of the five special committees (based in part upon those of the committee of 1867) were embodied in the encyclical letter, viz, on the best mode of maintaining union, voluntary boards of arbitration, missionary bishops and missionaries, continental chaplains and the report of a committee on difficulties submitted to the conference.

Third Conference (July 3-27, 1888)

Convened and presided over by Archbishop Benson; 145 bishops present; the chief subject of consideration being the position of communities which do not possess the historic episcopate. In addition to the encyclical letter, nineteen resolutions were put forth, and the reports of twelve special committees are appended upon which they are based, the subjects being intemperance, purity, divorce, polygamy, observance of Sunday, socialism, care of emigrants, mutual relations of dioceses of the Anglican Communion, home reunion, Scandinavian Church, Old Catholics, etc., Eastern Churches, standards of doctrine and worship. Perhaps the most important of these is the famous "Lambeth Quadrilateral," which laid down a fourfold basis for home reunion-the Holy Scriptures, the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds, the two sacramcnts ordained by Christ himself and the historic episcopate.

Fourth Conference (July 5-31, 1897)

Convened by Archbishop Benson, presided over by Archbishop Temple; 194 bishops present. One of the chief subjects for consideration was the creation of a tribunal of reference; but the resolutions on this subject were withdrawn, owing, it is said, to the opposition of the American bishops, and a more general resolution in favour of a "consultative body" was substituted. The encyclical letter is accompanied by sixty-three resolutions (which include careful provision for provincial organization and the extension of, the title archbishop "to all metropolitans, a thankful recognition of the revival of brotherhoods and sisterhoods, and of the office of deaconess," and a desire to promote friendly relations with the Eastern Churches and the various Old Catholic bodies), and the reports of the eleven committees are subjoined.

Fifth Conference (July 6-August 5, 1908)

Convened by Archbishop Randall Davidson, who presided; 241 bishops were present. The chief subjects of discussion were: the relations of faith and modern thought, the supply and training of the clergy, education, foreign missions, revision and "enrichment" of the Prayer-Book, the relation of the Church to "ministries of healing" (Christian Science, etc.), the questions of marriage and divorce, organization of the Anglican Church, reunion with other Churches. The results of the deliberations were embodied in seventy-eight resolutions, which were appended to the encyclical issued, in the name of the conference, by the Archbishop of Canterbury on August 8.

The fifth Lambeth conference, following as it did close on the great Pan-Anglican congress, is remarkable mainly as a proof of the growth of the influence and many-sided activity of the Anglican Church, and as a conspicuous manifestation of her characteristic principles. Of the seventy-eight resolutions none is in any sense epoch-making, and their spirit is that of the traditional Anglican via media. In general they are characterized by a firm adherence to the fundamental articles of Catholic orthodoxy, tempered by a tolerant attitude towards those not of "the household of the faith."

The report of the committee on faith and modern thought is "a faithful attempt to show how the claim of our Lord Jesus Christ, which the Church is set to present to each generation, may, under the characteristic conditions of our time, best command allegiance." On the question of education (Res. I 1-19) the conference reaffirmed strongly the necessity for definite Christian teaching in schools, "secular systems" being condemned as "educationally as well as morally unsound, since the?r fail to co-ordinate the training of the whole nature of the child" (Res. II). The resolutions on questions affecting foreign missions (20-26) deal with e.g. the overlapping of episcopal jurisdictions (22) and the establishment of Churches on lines of race or colour, which is condemned (20). The resolutions on questions of marriage and divorce (37-43) reaffirm the traditional attitude of the Church; it is, however, interesting to note that the resolution (40) deprecating the remarriage in church of the innocent party to a divorce was carried only by eighty-seven votes to eighty-four. In resolutions 44 to 53 the conference deals with the duty of the Church towards modern democratic ideals and social problems; affirms the responsibility of investors for the character and conditions of the concerns in which their money is placed (49); "while frankly acknowledging the moral gains sometimes won by war" strongly supports the extension of international arbitration (52); and emphasizes the duty of a stricter observance of Sunday (53). On the question of reunion, the ideal of corporate unity was reaffirmed (58). It was decided to send a deputation of bishops with a letter of greeting to the national council of the Russian Church about to be assembled (60) and certain conditions were laid down for interconrnlunion with certain of the Churches of the Orthodox Eastern

Communion (62) and the "ancient separated Churches of the East" (63-65). Resolution 67 warned Anglicans from contracting marriages, under actual conditions, with Roman Catholics. By resolution 68 the conference stated its desire to "maintain and strengthen the friendly relations" between the Churches of the Anglican Communion and "the ancient Church of Holland" (Jansenist, see UTREcHT) and the old Catholic Churches; and resolutions 70-73 made elaborate provisions for a projected corporate union between the Anglican Church and the Unitas Fratrum (Moravian Brethren). As to "home reunion," however, it was made perfectly clear that this would only be possible "on lines suggested by such precedents as those of 1610," i.e. by the Presbyterian Churches accepting the episcopal model. So far as the organization of the Anglican Church is concerned, the most important outcome of the conference was the reconstruction of the Central Consultative Body on representative lines (54-56); this body to consist of the archbishop of Canterbury and seventeen bishops appointed by the various Churches of the Anglican Communion throughout the world. A notable feature of the conference was the presence of the Swedish bishop of Kalmar, who presented a letter from the archbishop of Uppsala, as a tentative advance towards closer relations between the Anglican Church and the Evangelical Church of Sweden.

See Archbishop RT Davidson, The Lambeth Conferences of 1867, 1878 and 1888 (London, 1896); Conference of Bishops of the Anglican Communion, Encyclical Letter, etc. (London, 1897 and 1908).

This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.