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 Issues | Church History | Synod of Hertford

The Synod of Hertford (673AD)
The Synod of Hertford began on 24 September 673 AD and can be regarded as the beginning of the Church of England as a structural entity.

Theodore of Canterbury called a Synod of bishops and teachers of the Church. The Synod included all the Bishops except Wilfrid of Northumbria who sent proxies in his stead. At this stage there was no political entity of England and thus it can be fairly said that the Church of England pre-dated the creation of the English nation by about 150 years.

The Synod brought greater uniformity to the English churches and led to the consecration of more Bishops. In the decade following the Synod the number increased from 6 to 14 although it should be remembered that Bishops then had a very different role, much more like a Team Rector or Incumbent of a large parish today with a roving ministry. Ten Canons were agreed largely to ensure greater co-operation.

The Synod is described by Bede in his Ecclesiastical History in the following terms:

‘In the name of the Lord God and our Saviour Jesus Christ, who reigns in eternity and rules His Church through the same Lord Jesus Christ. It was thought right that we should assemble in accordance with the custom of ancient canons to transact the necessary affairs of the Church. We therefore assembled on the 24th day of September, the first indiction, at Hertford; that is, myself, Theodore, though unworthy, Bishop of the See of Canterbury by the authority of the apostolic see; our fellow-bishop and brother the most reverend Bisi, Bishop of the East Angles; also our brother the Bishop Wilfrid, Bishop of the Northurnbrian people, who is represented by his own proxies. Also present were our
brothers and fellow-bishops Putta, Bishop of the Kentish fortress of Rochester; Eleutherius, Bishop of the west Saxons, and Winfrid, Bishop of the province of Mercia. When all the above had assembled and taken their places in due order, I said: “My dearest brothers, for the love and reverence you bear our Redeemer, I beg that we may all deliberate in harmony for our Faith, preserving inviolate the decrees and definitions of our holy and respected Fathers.” I then proceeded to speak at length on the need for charity, and the preservation of the Church's unity. And having concluded my discourse, I asked each in turn whether they agreed to observe all the canonical decrees of the ancient Fathers. To which all our fellow-priests replied: “We agree gladly, and we will readily and willingly obey whatever is laid down in the canons of the holy Fathers.” I then produced the said book of canons, and publicly showed them ten chapters which I had marked in certain places, because I knew them to be of the greatest importance to us, and I asked that all should devote careful attention to them.

  • Chapter I. “That we all unite in observing the holy day of Easter on the Sunday after the fourteenth day of the moon of the first month.”
  • Chapter 2. “That no bishop intrude into the diocese of another, but confine himself to the guidance of the people committed to his charge.”
  • Chapter 3. “That no bishop shall interfere in any way with monasteries dedicated to God, nor take anything from them forcibly.”
  • Chapter 4. “That monks shall not wander from place to place, that is, from monastery to monastery, except with letters dimissory from their own abbot; and that they keep the promise of obedience which they made at the time of their profession.”
  • Chapter 5. “That no clergy shall leave their own bishop and wander about at will, nor be received anywhere without letters of commendation from their own bishop. And should such a person, once received, refuse to return when so directed, both receiver and received shall incur excommunication.
  • Chapter 6. “That bishops and clergy when traveling shall be content with whatever hospitality is offered them; and that it is unlawful to exercise any priestly function without permission from the bishop in whose diocese they are.”
  • Chapter 7. “That a synod be held twice a year.” In view of various obstacles, however, it was unanimously agreed that we should meet once a year on the first of August at Clofeshoch.
  • Chapter 8. “That no bishop claim precedence over another out of ambition: seniority of consecration shall alone determine precedence.”
  • Chapter 9. It was generally determined, “That more bishops shall be consecrated as the number of the faithful increases.” But we shall take no action in the matter for the present.
  • Chapter 10 On marriages: “That lawful wedlock alone is permissible; incest is forbidden; and no man may leave his lawful wife except, as the gospel provides, for fornication. And if a man puts away his own wife who is joined to him in lawful marriage, he may not take another if he wishes to be a good Christian. He must either remain as he is, or else be reconciled to his wife.”

‘These decrees are drawn up and defined by our common consent, and in order that no occasion for unedifying controversy or differences between ourselves may arise, it has been thought right that each of us should ratify our decisions by his own signature. I have dictated this expression of our decisions to Titillus our secretary to be written down, and this has been done in the month and indiction mentioned above. Therefore, if anyone shall presume in any way to disregard or disobey these decisions confirmed by our agreement and ratified by our signatures, according to canonical decrees, let him take notice that he incurs suspension from every priestly function and exclusion from our fellowship.
‘May divine grace preserve us all in safety, who live in the unity of His Holy Church.’

 

Various locations have been suggested for Clofeshoch including Cliffe-by-Hoo in what was then Mercia.

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