Bishops in Temporal Power

Samuel Coleridge, On the constitution of the church and state, according to the idea of each; with aids toward a right judgment on the late Catholic Bill, 104:

It would be strange indeed if ignorance and superstition, the dense and rank fogs that most strangle and suffocate the light of the spirit in man, should constitute a spirituality in the power which takes advantage of them!

This is a gross abuse of the term, spiritual. The following, sanctioned as it is by custom and statute, yet (speaking exclusively as a philologist and without questioning its legality) I venture to point out as a misuse of the term. Our great Church dignitaries sit in the Upper House of the Convocation, as Prelates of the National Church: and as Prelates, may exercise ecclesiastical power. In the House of Lords they sit as barons, and by virtue of the baronies which, much against the will of these haughty prelates, our kings forced upon them: and as such, they exercise a Parliamentary power. As bishops of the Church of Christ only can they possess, or exercise (and God forbid! I should doubt, that as such, many of them do faithfully exercise) a spiritual power, which neither king can give, nor King and Parliament take away. As Christian bishops, they are spiritual pastors, by power of the spirit ruling the flocks committed to their charge; but they are temporal peers and prelates.

The spiritual power here is the power of God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, acting by his word to build up the Church of Christ. Coleridge says rightly that, not only in Parliament but also in Convocation, the bishops exercise not a spiritual power but a temporal. They can, to be sure, be guided even then by the wisdom of the Holy Ghost, as we hope all Christians are in all their doings, but their legislative acts in Convocation are not, strictly speaking, spiritual.


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