Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism


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The First British Republic

356 years ago today, Britain received its first elected politician as head of state, rather than a hereditary monarch. Various mediaeval states had elected leaders (from a narrow franchise), but this was the first modern republican leader in a major state. This was long before the United States got the whole world to call their republican leaders President, so we called him Protector. Continue reading
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A Glorious Revolution?

King Billy comes to Devon

King Billy comes to Devon

I’m surprised at how many momentous events in British history go unmarked, and wonder if some of them are actively hidden lest we start to rethink our settled establishment.

On this day* in 1688, William of Orange landed at Torbay, Devon (my home county), with Dutch troops and began a march on London that began our very own coup d’état: the Glorious Revolution. Most modern commentators will begin this story with the wisecrack that it was neither glorious nor a revolution, yet the Glorious Revolution is fundamental to an understanding of the British constitution today. Continue reading


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Two Christendom anniversaries

28 October is usually recognised as the feast of SS Simon & Jude in church calendars, but it’s also the anniversary of two difficult political moments in church history: one global (or at least European), the other English.

On this day in AD 312, Constantine defeated Maxentius in the Battle of Milvian Bridge, near Rome. Constantine certainly thought his victory, against the odds, to be due to divine intervention. At some point it became clear that the divinity involved was the God of the Christians. It is unclear whether the divine intervention was interpreted as Christian from the outset, , not, when it became considered Christian. Constantine and Maxentius were rival claimants to be emperor of the western half of the Roman empire, an empire still very much attached to the ancient Roman religion. Continue reading


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When democracy meant getting your sword

Battleton Holt, Edgehill; photo by Jonathan Billinger

Battleton Holt, Edgehill; photo by Jonathan Billinger

367 years ago today it all kicked off. The Battle of Edgehill on 23 October 1642 was the first major engagement of the English Civil War. As I sit in my study looking out on this bright but chilly day, with the puddles of yesterday’s rain still glistening on the tarmac, I can only begin to imagine what that day a few miles west of Stratford-upon-Avon was like.

Charles Stuart sr was a tyrant, an autocrat who ruled according to his own whim. While the House of Commons was not a great advert for power to the people, stuffed as it was with landowners and merchants elected on a very limited franchise, it was the nearest thing to democracy we had. This was a world before the revolutions of the US, France and Russia: no one had heard of a president running a country, and democracy was a dirty word. Continue reading


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Why I’m an Anglican

The main reason why I’m an Anglican is because I’m English, and being C of E is like a national default (at least it used to be, in the days before opting out of organised religion became the new default). That’s it, mundane and simple. As with so many things in life, the original reason for a decision is often pretty mundane. The reasoning and calculated arguments are added later. This is partly a natural evaluation that we do, but it is also an attempt not to look too stupid. We can go to great lengths to justify all sorts of decisions that, in truth, originated by whim of circumstance. Sometimes it’s liberating to be honest about our reasons. I chose my theological college because they served a nice cheeseboard when I visited, and I couldn’t afford the time or train fare to look elsewhere.

This is not to say that the later reasoning is a cover up. It can be, but it is still important to justify why we are where we are. I find this reasoning increasingly important as I find very good reasons not to be Anglican. I hate the Church of England’s ties with Establishment — Elizabeth Windsor as ‘Supreme Governor’, bishops sitting in the House of Lords, and the general societal superiority this tends to create (varieties of exceptionalism and classism). I hate its history of collusion with British empire building. I hate its lack of courage and self-knowledge and the blinkered pettiness it breeds. Continue reading