Does the Archbishop of Canterbury have to be a citizen of Great Britain.. Answer, that or of the Commonwealth

Over in twitter land BishopWhiteLives has opined that perhaps the Archbishop of Canterbury ought to be from Africa. (See the Lead's report).  Now while one of the primary candidates, the Archbishop of York was from Uganda he is, as I understand it, a citizen of Great Britain.  His being African is a matter of background, not current location. The proposal was that the Crown Nominations Committee consider an African - for example The Most Revd Thabo Cecil Makgoba, The Archbishop of Cape Town.

Would such a nomination be possible?  The question concerns, I suppose, whether or not the candidate could take an oath of obedience to the Queen, as seems to be required by Canon in the CofE if they were not obedient to the state as a citizen as well as to the Queen as head of the church.

The CofE canons say the following:

 (C 13)

"1. Every person whose election to any archbishopric or bishopric is to be confirmed, or who is to be consecrated or translated to any suffragan bishopric, or to be ordained priest or deacon, or to be instituted, installed, licensed or admitted to any office in the Church of England or otherwise serve in any place, shall first, in the presence of the archbishop or bishop by whom his election to such archbishopric or bishopric is to be confirmed, or in whose province such suffragan bishopric is situate, or by whom he is to be ordained, instituted, installed, licensed or admitted, or of the commissary of such archbishop or bishop, take the Oath of Allegiance in the form following:

I, A B, do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors, according to law: So help me God."

The Monarch is, as I understand it, head of state and head of church.  There is no distinction in this oath between those roles.  Could a person who swears allegiance to say, the State of South Africa, take such an oath without also essentially becoming a citizen of Great Britain?

I don't know.

Those who sort of wish the Crown Nominations Committee could look beyond the Isles for some candidate were apparently not listened to on the first round. There is no whisper that anyone outside was being considered. But the procedures outlined by the ABCs office do not seem to require that the candidates be British subjects.  

So, any takers on the (granted) abstract idea that someone not already a subject and citizen could be elected Archbishop of Canterbury?

THE ANSWER IS:  NO.  Paul Powers (in a comment) found the  answer in the "questions" that follow the "procedures" paper on the CofE pages.  It is not covered in the procedures proper, but in a follow-up, meaning I suppose that no one except a real outsider would even think of someone not a citizen being Archbishop.  Here is what the follow-up questions have to say:

"Are all bishops from within the Anglican Communion eligible for consideration as the next Archbishop of Canterbury?

Since the Archbishop of Canterbury is automatically a member of the House of Lords he must, under the law of the land be a British, Irish or Commonwealth citizen. The person chosen will be someone whom the CNC considers to be best able to fulfil the full range of responsibilities of the role, which, in addition to those concerning the Anglican Communion include being Primate of All England, Metropolitan for the Southern province and Diocesan Bishop of Canterbury. There is, however, no rule which limits the CNC to choosing someone who is currently holding an office in the Church of England. Indeed Archbishop Rowan was serving in another province of the Communion when nominated as Archbishop of Canterbury."  
A "commonwealth citizen" would mean I suppose that someone in Canada could be ABC. Assuming "Commonwealth" refers to what was called "the British Commonwealth" but now "the Commonwealth of Nations." A quick look at Commonwealth history suggests that the only connection between a commonwealth country and the Queen is the recognition of the Queen as "Head of Commonwealth."  That is a far cry from the swear required of the candidate, referred to rather quietly as "The new Archbishop does homage to Her Majesty." The real swear is a bit more direct, "I, A B, do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors, according to law: So help me God."

The list is interesting also because it states, "a British, Irish or Commonwealth citizen."  I really can't get it all straight, but I think this means someone from England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, and Ireland, and, you know, the Commonwealth. But never mind. It will all work out and we will have a new Archbishop of Canterbury.  

I have no problem with the selection process for the ABC. I do have a problem with the wonderfully convoluted workings of church and state in England.  At the same time, I think our own idiotic church-state mess is no help at all. We in the US claim separation of church and state and then muck up everything with wild eyed Christian fanaticism palmed off as just good ol' Christian belief. The effect is a government that moves further and further to the right in order to placate madness.


  1. Primus of Scotland...better chance of universal acceptance (and he´s a fine and wholesome minded fellow).

  2. The C of E website says he has to be a British, Irish, or Commonwealth citizen.


  3. Well South Africa would be a bit tricky. The Queen is Queen of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and several other countries but not of South Africa. Citizens of those countries where she is queen could swear that oath.

    More seriously the ABC does sit in the House of Lords and I don't see the PM approving someone who isn't actually a citizen of an area under Parliament's control (e.g., the UK and possibly British Overseas Territories). Even someone coming from the Channel Islands or Man would be problematic (they are not under the control of Parliament though are under the Queen).

  4. The legal consensus seems to be that the Archbishop of Canterbury must be a citizen of one of the Commonwealth monarchies. Indeed, I took almost verbatim that same oath (with the addition of one clause correctly identifying the said Elizabeth II as "Queen of Canada") when I joined the Canadian Forces.

  5. I think the issue is that the Archbishop of Canterbury is a member of the House of Lords (the upper house of our legislature, the equivalent of the US Senate). And members of the House of Lords have to be UK, Irish or Commonwealth citizens.

    So no, he doesn't have to be British - you could theoretically have a Canadian Archbishop of Canterbury, but not an American one!

  6. I read somewhere that because the ABC is a member of the House of Lords, he needs to be a British citizen. This rules in quite a few candidates from the churches of Scotland, Wales and Ireland, as well as (I presume) the odd bishop or two in other parts of the world who happens to be a British citizen.

  7. Father Mark. In answer to your question: 'Can anyone from outside the British Isles become the next Archbishop of Canterbury? Can I remind your readers that the very first Archbishop of Canterbury was, indeed, a 'furriner'. From 'For All the Saints'
    (ed. Dr.Ken Booth, ACANZP):

    "Augustine was sent by Pope Gregory the Great with a team of monks in 596 to establish a mission to the Anglo-Saxons in Britain. They eventually had a Christian centre in Canterbury, and in 597 Augustine was consecrated as the first Abp. of Canterbury."

    It needs, though, to be recognised that Gregory was not made Archbishop of Canterbury to 'lord it' over any other Church than that of his own archdiocese. It is only more recently that the ABC became Primus inter pares of the 'Anglican Communion'. Before that time, he had jurisdiction only amongst the Anglo-Saxons. There are those who believe that a return to the original 'status quo' might not be a bad thing. Far be it from me....

  8. It appears that the ABC would have to be from England or from one of the Commonwealth monarchies.

    The question I'd like to see addressed is whether the primus inter pares of the Anglican Communion always has to be the Archbishop of Canterbury.

  9. Perhaps more relevant is the question of whether bringing in someone from outside of England would be a good idea. I have a simple answer to this question: Rowan Williams. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the Primate of All England, not the Archbishop of the Anglican Communion. Everyone would be happier had Rowan paid more attention to what became his own church and a good deal less to the fractious Communion.

  10. I am basically with Lionel on this. The ABC is first of all Bishop of the Diocese of Canterbury, secondly Archbishop of the Province of Canterbury, thirdly Primate of All England, And then, oh by the way, he is the presiding/convening bishop of the Lambeth Conference and other assorted Anglican pow-wows.

    +Rowan is Welsh by birth and was Bishop of Monmouth/Abp of Wales before he went to Canterbury, but he was priested in the Diocese of Ely. He's as English as he needs to be.

    We observed the other day that Theodore of Tarsus was the last non-English ABC for a long time, and the only exceptions I can think of were Lanfranc and Anselm, a Norman and an Italian-by-way-of-Normandy.

    I've always thought it was a mistake for the Bishop of Rome (aka "The Pope") not to be an Italian. (Not to name any names...!) Although sometimes it was a mistake even when he was an Italian....!

  11. My link above didn't work, so I'll try again. According to the Church of England Website,:

    Since the Archbishop of Canterbury is automatically a member of the House of Lords he must, under the law of the land be a British, Irish or Commonwealth citizen..

    Since it says "Commonweath citizen" and not "citizen of a Commonwealth realm," that seems to suggest that a citizen of a Commonwealth republic (like South Africa) could be chosen. But does anyone really think they'll pick someone outside the UK?

  12. In answer to Grandmère Mimi's question, I don't think primus inter pares is an official title in the Anglican Communion. The ABC convenes and hosts the Lambeth Conference and presides over meetings of the Primates and of the Anglican Consultative Council. Whether he should continue to do all three is something for the Anglican Communion to decide, not the Church of England.

  13. Whether he should continue to do all three is something for the Anglican Communion to decide, not the Church of England.

    Yes, of course.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.