Sunday, February 10, 2008

Canterbury, The SEE and The INCUMBENT: Have we got these hopelessly confused?

In Anglican talk, a “see” is the place in which a cathedral church stands and is identified as the seat of authority of a bishop or archbishop.

Thus in the Church of England, Canterbury is the city in which an ancient cathedral church stands; further, it is the seat of authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primate of all England.

Obviously there has been, and is, only One See of Canterbury, but many Archbishops have sat upon the Seat (Cathedra, sedes) in the Cathedral. So in our thinking we can make a clear distinction between the See and the Incumbent Archbishops; and we can note that the See remains the See between the departure of one Archbishop and the election of a new one. The Cathedral, with its Dean and Canons, continues with its daily round of prayer and praise and pilgrims still visit.

The distinction between the See and the Incumbent Archbishop is very important for it allows us to see the See as enduring through the centuries as the symbol of the continuity of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church and Faith in this region, and to see the individual Archbishop as committed to that Church and Faith as pastor and teacher. However, a bishop, even an archbishop, is a man, and as such is a sinner and subject to temptation by the world, the flesh and the devil. So an individual Archbishop may teach error and fail as a pastor. During a period when there is a sense that the Incumbent Archbishop is not living, or teaching, or acting in an appropriate way for his high office, then the people of God of his diocese and province remember that he is not the See and they pray for his retirement and the appointment of a faithful and true pastor.


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