The 1222 Synod of Oxford approved of two canons aimed against Jews living in England. The Synod was held on the 11th of June, and presided over by Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury and cardinal legate. This was a council of all England, and fifty canons were published in conformity with those of the Council of Lateran of 1215. However, the two canons dealing with the expulsion of Jews are not detailed. The only mention of them comes at the end of the article:

In the Oxford copy of these constitutions two others are added relating to the Jews.—Johnson’s Ecc. Canons. Tom. xi. Conc. p. 270. Wilkins’ Conc., vol. i. p. 585. Source: https://www.ecatholic2000.com/councils2/untitled-18.shtml

This Synod was Roman Catholic and eventually the laws that were passed resulted in the expulsion of Jews from England in 1290. The Protestant Reformation didn’t take off till after Martin Luther published his 95 theses on 2 November 1517 and the Church of England didn’t exist till 1534. Why, then, does the Church of England wish to apologise for something it had nothing to do with?

This article https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edict_of_Expulsion gives an account of events since King Edward 1 of England signed The Edict of Expulsion on 18 July, 1290. It is worth noting that the edict was overturned during the Protectorate more than 350 years later, when Oliver Cromwell permitted Jews to return to England in 1657.

I found a related Christianity Stack question about the changing attitude of the Roman Catholic Church towards Jews. Although it does not deal specifically with my question, it is informative: Why did the Catholic Church change so radically after Vatican II in regards to the status of Jews?

My question is not intended to be contentious, and it is not about the rights or wrongs of either the Catholic Church or the Church of England regarding these historical events. I simply want to know why the Church of England feels it is necessary for them to apologise for events that took place in 1222 when England was a Catholic country.

  • 4
    The CoE sees itself as the legitimate successor to the Catholic Church in England (i.e., it traces apostolic succession through the medieval Catholic Church of England, etc), and if it was English clergy who passed those canons it makes sense to me that some there would want to apologise for it.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jul 19, 2021 at 7:13
  • 1
    That's very interesting and useful. I never knew that. Many thanks. Hopefully, someone will be able to add to this and dig up information from the Church of England.
    – Lesley
    Commented Jul 19, 2021 at 7:17
  • 2
    @curiousdannii I think that view would be held by High Church (Anglo-Catholic) but not by Low Church.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jul 19, 2021 at 9:11
  • 3
    The Anglican Communion "has never officially endorsed any one particular theory of the origin of the historic episcopate, its exact relation to the apostolate, and the sense in which it should be thought of as God given, and in fact tolerates a wide variety of views on these points". Wikipedia - Apostolic Succession. English Reformers such as Richard Hooker rejected the Catholic position that Apostolic Succession is divinely commanded or necessary for true Christian ministry,
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jul 19, 2021 at 9:14
  • 3
    @curiousdannii Indeed, whether or not any Anglicans hold an opinion (or not) on succession, it still seems inexplicable that the C of E should 'apologise' for historic actions by the English Monarchy or Government. Which makes me suspect it is a political move (in consort with Monarchy/Government ?) rather than a truly religious or moral matter.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jul 19, 2021 at 9:37

2 Answers 2


There are many facets to this. Anne’s response and answer has shown why what happened in 1222 is regarded as deplorable and why the Church of England might wish to make some gesture or statement deploring it. If I understand OP's question correctly, she asks why, granted that the Church wishes to deplore what happened in 1222, should it do so in the form of an apology, rather than in the form of a condemnation.

Apologising for something that one had no personal responsibility for, and which happened before any person involved in the apology was even born, is anyway questionable. It involves members or representatives of a contemporary group dissociating themselves from the conduct of past members, perhaps a nation apologisng for an attrocity or a once privileged group for discrimination.

The premise of OP's question is that the Church of England cannot dissociate itself from anything that happend before 1534, because the Church of England did not exist until then. The answer to this conundrum is that the Church of England, in general, does not accept that it only came into existence in 1534.

So what did happen in 1534? The Act of Supremacy was passed by the English Parliament. This stated that Henry VIII and his heirs be taken, accepted and reputed the only supreme head on earth of the Church of England called Ecclesia Anglicana...any..foreign authority..to the contrary notwithstanding.

The Convocations (bodies consisting of bishops and representatives of clergy) had already agreed this in 1531.

England (bishops, clergy reps, lords, commons reps and king) was not creating a new entity, called the Church of England. It was declaring the king to be head of an already existing entity. In fact, it had already been illegal, since the 1300s, to assert or maintain papal jurisdiction in England.

There was complete continuity in the organisation before and after 1534. Countless English churches have boards listing the vicars since well before 1534 up to the present. After Henry VIII died the Church of England was reformed to become Protestant under the boy Edward VI. When he died his sister Mary brought it back into submission to Rome, but there was no concept of "abolishing" the Church of England or "reinstating" the Roman Catholic Church. It was seen as the healing of a schism between two parts of the church. When Mary died a new Act of Supremacy declared Elizabeth I and her heirs supreme governor, rather than head, of the Church of England. Her present Majesty, Elizabeth II, still holds this position.

Neither Henry VIII nor any of his contemporaries imagined that a new denomination was being founded. Indeed the concept of a denomination would be entirely alien to them. It was already known that there were countries e.g. Greece and Egypt, which did not acknowledge Rome. The extent of Papal jurisdiction was a constant ebb and flow throughout Europe across centuries. Even the Synod of Chester, aroud 600, had rejected Augustine's authority.

One would not say that Virginia did not exist until it declared itself independent of the British Empire, nor that the Greek Orthodox Church did not exist until 1056.

Dring the process of Reformation the Church of England dissociated itself from much. However neither the C of E nor Luther and Protestants generally dissociated themselves from anti-semitism.

So the "answer" is to reject the premise of the question, that the Church of England was founded in 1534 and has no continuity with the Ecclesia Anglicana. Roman Catholics might see it that way, but the Church of England generally does not.

  • 2
    Answered after mature reflection +1.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Jul 30, 2021 at 15:53

The history of religious persecution of Jews in Britain is truly horrible, and a shame and a reproach on the good name of Christ. However, I will not delve into that here, but provide a few links at the end. This question asks about Church of England thinking behind a planned “act of repentance” for 2022 (on the 800th anniversary of the Synod of Oxford, which passed laws restricting the rights of Jews, and which led to expulsions in 1290). That Synod long predated the formation of the Church of England in 1534.

An article by Tony Kusher on 16 July 2021 gives some answers to your question. He is James Parkes Professor of Jewish/non-Jewish Relations at the University of Southampton. One important, and current reason, is

“…a growing recognition within the Church of England that Christian anti-Judaism was a key, if not the only, cause of modern antisemitism. This was recognised as early as the 1920s by the radical Anglican clergyman James Parkes, who spent his whole career fighting for the Jews – before, during and after the Nazi era. Confronting the scale of violent, racial antisemitism in the university campuses of Europe during the 1920s, Parkes carried out deep research into the roots of this animosity.”

Kusher then quotes from Parkes’ 1969 autobiography. Then he refers to a 2019 Church of England document, “God’s Unfailing Word”, which

“accepts the pivotal work of Parkes in acknowledging that troubling legacy. In that sense, the apology is an extension of the 2019 document.”

That, in brief, is a main reason for the Church of England working towards the proposed “Act of Repentance”. The full article explaining all of this can be found at https://theconversation.com/the-church-of-england-is-apologising-for-medieval-antisemitism-why-now-164533

See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edict_of_Expulsion#Planned_apology https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edict_of_Expulsion#Expulsion https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edict_of_Expulsion

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .