The dialectics of faith: Laity, clergy, and church life in three Hamilton Anglican parishes, 1880-1914



Smith, Edward Arthur Warwick

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University of Guelph


Religion is firstly about belief. While this simple statement may seem on the face of it to be obvious, it represents an approach little pursued in the academic study of religious history in Canada. Religious belief and its institutional face, the church, formed an element of fundamental relevance to society in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This thesis considers both the broad social and theological currents of Anglicanism and their reality at the parish level. The different groups within the institutional church held varying views on the nature of religiosity. For the clergy, religion existed above and in conflict with the profane, while to the laity the division between the sacred and the secular was largely a false dichotomy. For the clergy, belief consisted in promulgation of the Christian message through preaching, teaching and liturgy. For the laity, faith was expressed through playing both a supportive and a critical role, but primarily by means of the physical manifestations of the church. At the parish level and therefore across the entire church, clergy and laity moved together in a dialectic of influence and change that mingled the tangible and the intangible. The temporal sphere to which the laity was ordinarily limited prompted and altered the spiritual realm claimed exclusively by the clergy and was in its turn altered by that high conception of faith. This pattern reflected an incomplete devolution in authority away from the clergy and towards the laity. The nature of Anglican institutional theology with its hierarchical organization applied an effective brake on any further movement in this direction, while the reality of disestablishment in its turn compromised the authority of the clergy.



Hamilton Anglican parishes, laity, clergy, church life