A theological assessment of the socio-political role of the Church of the Province of South Africa (1904-1930) with special reference to the influence of Archbishop William Marlborough Carter

Master Thesis


Permanent link to this Item
Journal Title
Link to Journal
Journal ISSN
Volume Title

University of Cape Town

In 1870, as a consequence of Bishop Robert Gray's controversy with Bishop William Colenso, the Church of the Province of South Africa (CPSA) had declared itself an autonomous part of the Anglican Communion independent of British legal control. That was the first major paradigm shift in the life of the Church of the Province of South Africa. After the Treaty of Vereeniging which ended the Anglo-Boer War the CPSA shared Milner's vision of a united South Africa within the British Empire. White unity and control was the political stratagem. However, the British colonial powers did not reckon with the resolve of the Afrikaner to recover political power. Afrikaner political groupings regained control of the Free State and the Transvaal and, when the union of the four provinces was enacted in 1910, a former Afrikaner general became the Prime Minister. The CPSA found itself in the unaccustomed position of no longer being the spiritual arm of the secular authority. William Marlborough Carter was elected Archbishop at the time when the CPSA was experiencing a second paradigm shift. During the period of Carter's archiepiscopate the notorious and oppressive Land Act, the Mines and Works Act, the Colour Bar Act and the Hertzog Bills sought to entrench segregation and the economic and political subjugation of blacks. At first the CPSA welcomed some, if not all, of the legislation, but it gradually became aware of the injustice of the political system and consequently found itself at odds with the majority of whites in its criticism of government policies. A process of transformation was taking place which prepared it for its subsequent prophetic role. This was the third paradigm shift in the life of the CPSA. The leaven in the process of transformation was the Anglo-Catholicism and Christian Socialism found in the theological formation of the leadership of the CPSA and specifically in the formation of the Archbishop. His convictions are reflected in his Charges to the provincial synods. The determinative transforming force was the challenges presented by black members of the Church. Questions were raised about the participation of blacks in the government of the Church and the need for blacks to hold positions of leadership. During this period there were concerted efforts to establish a separate black Church within the CPSA on the one hand and efforts by blacks from various denominations to form an independent black Church free from white domination. Black Anglicans took a lead in the agitation against white domination of Church structures. Arising out of my research I assess the adequacy of the analysis of the role of the CPSA during this period made by James Cochrane in Servants of Power - The Role of the English-speaking Churches 1903-1930. I show that his ideological analysis is inadequate because it does not take account of the contribution of Carter and others like him. My research seeks to explain how the CPSA changed from being a servant of those in power to serving the powerless.

Bibliography: pages 138-147.