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The Origin and Founding of the Ecclesiastical Law Society

  • Quentin Edwards (a1)


There was an ecclesiastical law shaped hole in the Church of England from the dissolution of Doctors' Commons in 1857 until 1987 when it was filled by the formation of the Ecclesiastical Law Society. In 1947, forty years earlier, the Archbishops' Canon Law Commission had suggested how the hole might be filled. The Commission was appointed in 1939 and published its report under the title The Canon Law of the Church of England (SPCK, 1947). The Report consisted of a learned and authoritative review of the sources of English canon law and made recommendations for its reform, in particular by appending to the Report a body of suggested revised canons. Included in the Report was the following paragraph expressing the hope that a society might be formed for the study of canon law:

‘The success of a new code of canons will to a great extent depend on a wider knowledge than at present exists among the clergy of the law of the Church of England, its nature, history, development, and particular characteristics; and it is hoped that the previous chapters of this Report will provide an elementary introduction to the subject. We recommend therefore that those who are responsible for the training of ordination candidates and for the post-ordination training of the clergy should be asked to consider what steps can be taken to give both ordinands and clergy a more professional knowledge of the Church's law and constitution. In giving evidence before the Ecclesiastical Courts Commission in 1883 the late Sir Lewis Dibdin pointed out that since the disappearance of Doctors' Commons in 1857 there had really been no method of teaching or preserving a knowledge of the Ecclesiastical Law. It is impossible at this stage to revive anything like Doctors' Commons, but we would suggest that a society, consisting of clergy, professional historians, and lawyers, be formed for the purpose of studying the Ecclesiastical Law and of suggesting ways in which that law either needs alteration or can be developed to meet new needs. As a rule there is far too little contact and interchange of ideas and points of view between the clergy and ecclesiastical lawyers, and such a society would give opportunities for this. Such a society would train up a number of people competent to advise and help the clergy in the particular problems of Ecclesiastical Law with which from time to time they are confronted.’


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The Origin and Founding of the Ecclesiastical Law Society

  • Quentin Edwards (a1)


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