Synod of Hertford – 24 Sept 673

It has been 1334 years today since the Synod of Hertford convened the first post-Whitby synod of the entire Church of England. Over a thousand years and yet the rulings of the synod sound so familiar to our problems in the Anglican Communion today.

Archbishop Theodore, the first Archbishop of Canterbury with authority over the entire Church of England, called the first synod on 24 September 673 at Hertford in Essex. He may have chosen his place well. The last bishop of London (Essex) on record is the problematic Gaulish bishop Wine who bought the see of London from King Wulfhere in the late 660s. Bede says that he remained in London for the rest of his life (Bede HE III.7). He is not listed among the bishops at Hertford and was replaced by Erconwald in 675, so either Theodore did not allow him to come to the synod or the see was vacant.

Bishops present, in addition to Archbishop Theodore:

  • Bisi, Bishop of East Anglia (Dunwich?)
  • Putta, Bishop of Rochester
  • Leuthere, Bishop of Wessex (Dorchester?)
  • Winfrith, Bishop of Mercia (Litchfield)

Bishops absent:

  • Wilfrid, Bishop of York (represented by proxy)

The synod passed ten canon laws: (Bede’s History, Book IV, Chapter 5, McClure and Collins ed. 1994: p. 180-182)

  1. Roman date of Easter will be used.
  2. “no bishop shall intrude into the diocese of another bishop, but that he should be content with the government of the people committed to his charge”
  3. Bishops shall not interfere with monasteries or take their property.
  4. Monks shall not wonder about without letters of dismissal from their abbots.
  5. Clergy shall not leave their dioceses without letters of dismissal of their bishops. No bishop shall receive a clergyman without a letter of commendation from his previous bishop. Penalty for both clergy and receiving bishop is excommunication.
  6. Traveling clergy and bishops will be happy with the hospitality offered.
  7. Two synods should be held each year (reduced to once a year for practical reasons and even that didn’t occur).
  8. “no bishop claim precedence over another bishop out of ambition; but shall take rank according to the time and order of their consecration.”
  9. More bishops shall be created as the number of Christians increases (conversion of pagan Anglo-Saxons is still occurring).
  10. Rules regulating marriage among the laity and forbidding remarriage to anyone who “puts away a lawful wife”.

Looking back at the ten canons, we have rules for the behavior of clergy, particularly bishops, and an attempt to regulate sex among the laity…how familiar does that seem? To see how bad the latter can get, I refer you to the Medieval Safe Sex Flow Chart (according to only the best penitentials) at Got Medieval.

Bishops behaving badly will continue to be a problem for Theodore. He will find it necessary in the coming years to depose two of these bishops, Wilfrid and Winfrith. Both appealed to Rome with varying success. Putta appears to have abandoned his see when the Mercians invaded Rochester and was content to live under Bishop Saexwulf of the Mercians. Theodore appointed another who abandoned Rochester, and finally got a third man named Gefmund to stay as bishop.

Did you ever notice how many deposed/exiled/retired bishops there were floating around Britain and Ireland in the 7th and 8th century?

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